In the past, a number of concrete skateparks have been modeled after ditches, but what about modeling ditches after skateparks? Some cities and developers have toyed with the idea of a dual-purpose ditch/skatepark infrastructure, but never made it happen due to fears of liability, lawsuits and extra construction costs. Well it seems that here in the desert Southwest, the time has come for such an effort.
In Santa Teresa, New Mexico, a few miles north of El Paso, Texas, Winton Homes began developing a new subdivision called Edgemont. “From a business standpoint, our goal is to make as many homes as we can on the land and sell them.” says owner Scott Winton. Winton also understands the landscape of why people might buy a home: “We wanted to add a basketball court, a playground and a small skatepark.” he said.
Luckily, local skater Chris Najera (aka PC) had just put money down on a house in Edgemont. He was excited when he heard a skatepark was going to be built, but was bummed when he heard it was going to be a modular park. The El Paso area has its fair share of poorly built modular park, and another park like this built in the area would be an insult.
As a result, P.C. approached the developer as a homeowner and a skater, and explained how a concrete park is a much better option. Remarkably, Winston listened to P.C.’s advice and started thinking of ideas. One of the ideas was to convert a planned drainage ditch into a skatepark. The developer had to build a concrete drainage ditch anyways, so why not build a multi-use drainage ditch that could also be used as a skatepark.
That is where the El Paso Skatepark Association (EPSA) stepped in and helped in the process. EPSA is a volunteer, non-profit 501(c)3 organization that is really a group of serious skateboarders who are dedicated to the development and stewardship of safe, freely accessible public skateparks in the El Paso area. After years of seeing poorly built modular parks pop up the group developed to educate decision makers on the right way to build a skatepark. Since Santa Teresa was a neighboring community the EPSA was happy to help out.
Through a series of meetings with the developer and the EPSA, headed by Paul Zimmerman, it was resolved that the top 80 feet of the concrete ditch could be built as skateable terrain. Paul was able to modify the existing ditch template into a skatepark friendly design. During the process Paul had to keep in mind that the ditch needed to be designed for its original purpose which was moving water. In the end, the contractor agreed to build escalating 3 to 5 foot radius walls down the ditch and bowl ends at the top where water flow would not be affected.
The first concrete trucks rolled up on the morning of September 10, 2009. The contractor who normally built sidewalks and curbs would be hand stacking radius walls for skateboarding. During the two week build Paul was on site to monitor the construction. Since the contractor had never built a skatepark it was especially important for Paul to make sure the forms and the concrete were being set properly.
As the construction ended, the legalities of such a spot remained unanswered. To date there has not been another neighborhood, city or county to embark on such an endeavor. Winton showed up and explained that the City of Sunland Park (which governs Santa Teresa) had agreed to the plans for modified drainage. When the subdivision construction is completed Winton will turn over the ditch to the city, and it will become city property. The only signs posted warn of flash floods. However, there is no signage saying that this is a skatepark or a skatespot, it’s considered a ditch.
Since the Edgemont Ditch has been completed it has attracted skaters from all over the country. Traveling pro skaters will put it on their list of things to hit because of its uniqueness. On top of that, the City of El Paso has taken notice and is now working with the EPSA and a Fort Worth-based architecture firm to design a 4,000 square foot skateable stilling basin in Northeast El Paso.
The Edgemont Ditch goes to show that a skatepark does not have to always be a skatepark, it also shows that a skatepark can be multi-use. In this situation, the skaters and the developer thought outside of the box and were able to create something that has never been done before.
Words and photos by Paul Zimmerman.