Vancouver, Washington

Vancouver, Washington sits on the bank of the Columbia River just across from Portland, Oregon – a region with many communities establishing top notch skatepark facilities.

Clark County and the city of Vancouver consolidated their respective parks departments into the joint Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation Department (1997). The first piece of their skate terrain puzzle was established in 1998 – when public skateparks were in their infancy. As with any version 1.0, aspects of that initial offering have proved to be valuable as a learning tool – which factored into the implementation of the next skatepark.

While the finishing touches on that second skatepark have just been completed, the visionaries in Vancouver / Clark County P&R are in the process of several additional skatespots: one completed, two currently under construction, and one to be built in the near future. In fact, skateboarding facilities are being considered for every new public park in Clark County during the master planning process that is currently underway. This mix of larger skateparks and smaller skate opportunities is a beautiful model – one that many communities would be wise to pay attention to.

Q&A with Jilayne Jordan

Parks Communications Specialist – Clark County, Washington

SPS: What were some of the motivating factors for providing skate terrain?

Jilayne Jordan: We recognize that skateboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation and in Clark County, and that there is a need for additional, legal places to ride.

Our goal is to provide facilities for skateboarding and BMX bicycling just as we do with other outdoor sports like basketball, baseball, and soccer. It’s important that children and adults be allowed to engage in a variety of sports in a safe and fun environment, including skateboarding.

Some communities are content with one skatepark, but the finishing touches are being applied to your next skatepark – what are some of the concepts which lead to skatepark V2.0?

Clark County is growing very rapidly and with that growth comes an increased need for more outdoor recreation opportunities that are closer to where people live. The east side of the county has experienced a great deal of this kind of residential and commercial growth. When we started having public meetings several years ago to talk about how to develop Pacific Community Park, a number of local skaters and BMXers got involved and really lobbied hard for including an Extreme Sports Park in the plan. Their dedication and enthusiasm impressed not just the project staff, but the other park user groups involved in the planning process as well.

A skater staffed design/build firm was selected for the second addition to your skatepark system. What effect did employing such a firm effect the finished product?

The best way to ensure the success of a project like this is by hiring people with appropriate expertise to design and build it for you. We definitely got that by hiring Grindline, and by encouraging local skaters and BMXers to participate in the design development process.

They did a fantastic job for us, and for this community and we really hope all the skaters and BMXers out there love it as much as we do.

How many skatespots are currently in Vancouver? Are there plans for more?

Currently, we have one skate spot at Gretchen Fraser Neighborhood Park on the east side of Vancouver that was built in 2006. Outside the city of Vancouver, we are in the process of building two new skate spots in addition to the new Extreme Sports Park at Pacific Community Park. The two new skate spots are located in smaller neighborhood parks in the Sifton and Hazel Dell areas of the Clark County, and are scheduled to be complete this fall. We also plan to build a skate spot at Fairgrounds Community Park in 2008.

We’ve had great success with the existing skate spot at Gretchen Fraser Park, and will be approaching the public about the potential for including more skate spots in new parks we develop in the future. It may not be feasible to put skate spots in every new park we develop, but we will be encouraging neighbors to consider the option where appropriate.

The model of distributing skatespots throughout the community is mostly unprecedented. What are some of the advantages of this model?

Skate spots are smaller than typical skate parks, so they are less expensive to build and maintain. They provide a less crowded and intimidating option for younger children who are learning to skateboard or ride BMX to practice and build confidence before graduating to larger skate parks. They are usually located at smaller neighborhood parks closer to home, which makes it easier for younger children to use.

How have the skatespots been received?

The skate spot at Gretchen Frasier Neighborhood Park is very popular. We feel that the high visibility from Mill Plain Boulevard and the close proximity to the new police station provide a high level of safety that may dispel the common misperception that skate parks are dangerous and attract criminal behavior. We anticipate similar successes at two new skate spots now under construction in Hazel Dell and Sifton.

How has the process of developing skatespots differed from developing-traditional skateparks? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both?

The process for developing skate spots and traditional skate parks are pretty much the same. Both options require public outreach, planning, design, permitting and construction – just on a different scale.

Traditional Skate Park Advantages:

  • They are usually located in commercial areas or in large community parks, which presents less of a problem when it comes to noise concerns for adjacent neighbors.
  • They are also mostly self-contained, so there’s not as much concern about pedestrian/skater conflicts and accidents.
  • They can serve a larger number of people from a larger geographic area.
  • They can be used by skaters and BMXers of various skill levels.
  • When designed and built well, they can help attract out of town visitors who bring tourism dollars to the area

Traditional Skate Park Disadvantages:

  • They require a lot of additional infrastructure, such as parking and restrooms to be successful.
  • They are expensive to design, build and maintain (relative to skatespots).
  • They require a fairly large amount of space inside a park.

Skate Spot Advantages:

  • They are less expensive to design, build and maintain.
  • They don’t take up much space inside a park (1,000-4,000 square feet).
  • They can be located in smaller neighborhood parks.
  • They provide a safe place for younger children to learn how to skateor BMX before moving on to larger skate parks.

Skate Spot Disadvantages:

  • They are typically located in small neighborhood parks that are surrounded by homes, which can create noise concerns for nearby neighbors.
  • They must share the same space with other park features and users, which can create potential for conflicts or accidents.
  • They typically provide only one or two skateboarding features, which may not appeal to more experienced skaters.
  • Only a handful of people can use it at the same time.

How important to a successful outcome is skater involvement with the process? In what ways did your skaters get involved?

It is extremely important that local skaters get involved in the planning and design of new parks early on and stick with it to the end. When park users have a sense of ownership for their park, or a feature in their park, they are more likely to respect and protect it.

This kind of active involvement in a public project like this also helps dispel the misconceptions many adults in the community have about skate parks and people who use them. Involvement in the process will also help us make sure that we are building the right thing (i.e. bowls vs. urban street layouts, etc.).

With the new Extreme Sports Park, a number of local skaters came to each of the public meetings we had about the development of Pacific Community Park. Their involvement is directly reflected in the final product.

BMX riders are a part of the rider group in Vancouver. How do you anticipate the user groups interacting? How has the BMX presence effected the planing of your parks?

During the development process of our new Extreme Sports Park, the BMX riders who showed up at the public meetings actually consistently outnumbered the skaters. Due to this, our new park was designed with both skateboarding and BMXing in mind, and is why we are calling it an Extreme Sports Park, not a “skate park.”

We have been very impressed with both groups’ willingness to set aside their differences in favor of working together to create a great new facility they can all use. We are very optimistic that skaters and BMXers will be able to co-exist peacefully in this new park, and will be able to work out any problems that might arise in a positive way.

Funding is often times the biggest obstacle a community faces. How were these facilities funded?

The majority of the funding for the design and construction of our parks comes from Park Impact Fees, which are paid whenever new residential property is developed in Clark County, and by Real Estate Excise Taxes, which are paid whenever a property is sold in Clark County. In addition, we apply for a number of different grants every year. In 2005, voters in the unincorporated urban area of the Clark County passed a property tax levy that provided necessary funding for long-term maintenance of 35 new parks after they’re built, including Pacific Community Park.

However, sometimes this funding isn’t enough to build everything we plan for. In the case of our new Extreme Sports Park, we only had enough funding to build half of the proposed 20,000 square foot facility. We will be relying on community-based fundraising efforts in order to build Phase 2.

In an ideal environment, how would you like to see Vancouver’s skate opportunities develop?

We would like to see an equitable distribution of skateboarding and BMX features throughout the Vancouver/Clark County park system. It would be great if we could develop enough skate spots or skate parks to serve all of the city and county’s residents. That is a long-term goal that we will continue to work towards as we balance all of the other recreation needs that we serve (i.e. equestrian, disc golf, baseball, soccer, dog parks, etc.).

The first installation in Vancouver’s skatepark system was almost 10 years ago. What have we learned? What would you do different?

One of the main lessons we took away from our first foray into skate park development and operation is that location is key. It is vital that your facility be easily accessible and highly visible. Finally, we are now complete believers in inviting local skaters and BMXers to participate in the design process, and in the importance of hiring skatepark experts to do the design and construction.

—Bill Helene, (former) SPS Regional Director