The City of Wenatchee sits in the geographical center of Washington State. It’s a few hours away from the state’s large metropolitan areas. Seattle is a few hours to the west and Spokane a few hours to the east.
The area is rural with a heavy reliance on agriculture, mostly fruit. It’s known as the Apple Capital of the World. Because Wenatchee is the largest town for hours in any direction there is some tension cultural tension between the generation that knows the area to be rural and the younger residents that desire more urban amenities. Skateboarding is at ground zero of this conflict.
Wenatchee is split down the middle by the Columbia River. The east side of town is called East Wenatchee, is in a completely different county, and has its own City government even though people routinely go to either side of the river daily for a variety of reasons. A typical kid might go to a park in Wenatchee even though he or she lived in East Wenatchee, for example. For recreational planning purposes the larger Wenatchee area could be considered as a whole although twice the number of agencies and decision-makers could potentially be involved with any consideration.
In 1997 Wenatchee built its first skatepark using a community design and built with Public Works oversight and prisoner labor.
Although the Wenatchee skatepark is well used, it has no shortage of design and construction flaws. For lack of other options, the park is still used regularly to this day by the locals.
A series of plans by the City indicated that the existing park would need to be demolished. At first there were no immediate plans to replace it though the City stated that the skatepark would be replaced at some point in the future at a different location within the park.
When Wenatchee resident Mike Leeds saw his sons begin getting interested in skateboarding it stirred memories of his own youth. While visiting Wenatchee’s skatepark he saw first-hand what the issues were. The biggest challenge for Pioneer Skatepark was that it was the only public skateboarding facility within 20 miles. For an area with nearly 100,000 citizens—and by national standards around 4,600 skateboarders—it resulted in an overused and crowded space that wasn’t designed for the amount of activity it attracted.
The high demands put on the facility are further undermined by design and construction flaws. These flaws often result in an unpleasant experience by beginning skaters who don’t realize that much of the difficulty they’re having with skateboarding is the result of the shoddy construction. The net result is that it isn’t a good place for youngsters to go. Older, experienced skaters with the option to travel would make trips better skateparks in other towns or visit the commercial (indoor) skatepark in town. The public skatepark became overrun with teenagers as the other types of users explored other options or quit skating altogether.
In 2005 Leeds investigated what had been done previously. He learned that the original skatepark was built under some naïve ideas about the required quality. Through this review he learned that a local skateshop owner, Joey McGuire, and previously contacted the City about the condition of the skatepark and had offered to donate some ramps that could be installed next to the park to help support the quantity of users and draw a more diverse group. The City declined that offer. Through this, Leeds learned that the Wenatchee Valley leadership might not be immediately open to his ideas. He anticipated a struggle simply to have the skatepark issues taken seriously and considered by the City officials.
By early 2007 Leeds had developed some serious ideas about what could be done for the Wenatchee skateboarding community. Their vision hinged on this central principle: For a town of its size, Wenatchee skateboarding youth are severely underserved. This was not a desire by local skateboarders to have a new skatepark but rather an urgent problem faced by the entire community. The only way to fix it was to launch a serious skatepark advocacy mission.
Leeds anticipated early on that this vision would be so exciting to the area’s skateboarders that creating a group that would present undeniable force to the mission would be easy. He was wrong. The local youth were interested but lacked the experience to jump in with initiative. Furthermore, at these early stages there was little for people to do. It became clear that Leeds had to put down a strategy and develop some relationships first before they could rally the troops. With little experience managing something of this scale, Leeds struggled to get people involved and stay involved.
These earliest stages were sometimes frustrating. While he anticipated some cultural resistance to the idea of skateboarding from people in the community, he was unprepared for how passionate their resistance sometimes was. As time goes on and opportunities come up to present the “skatepark vision,” the exercise of talking anti-skateboarding folks down to a practical scale has become easier. As the project gained momentum Leeds formed the Community for Wenatchee Valley Skateparks and expanded their vision to include a system of skateparks across the region and away from a single facility to solve all their problems.
As the mission became more ambitious, supportive members of the community became enthusiastically involved.
To date, Leeds has established several options for the Wenatchee Valley and a growing body of dedicated volunteers on board, including McGuire, (who had earlier offered some ramps to the City. There are several sites being considered for one or more new skateparks as well as the relocation, (and reconstruction under a new design), of the existing one.
Several meetings with the Wenatchee and East Wenatchee Parks Departments have produced a number of sites being considered for skateparks of varying sizes. As with any effort like this, it takes one individual within the Parks or City administration to embrace the vision and help advocate from within. In Wenatchee this person is Dave Erickson, the Wenatchee Parks Director. (You couldn’t find a better person to have on board than the Parks Director.) On the other side of the Columbia River, Dave Schwab has also been a source of incredible support. Schwab is the Parks Director for East Wenatchee. So far Leeds appears to have the Midas Touch of skatepark advocacy.
A feasibility study is being concluded and will be presented to the Parks Advisory Board. This explores the skatepark vision in its myriad forms; liability, design and construction, public awareness, and funding.
Mike Leeds continues to think big for Wenatchee Valley by enlisting tangible support from local businesses and the broader community. The support list is growing quickly.
The skatepark advocacy plans growing bigger every day. Not only is the groundwork laid for a Valley-wide skatepark system but the advocacy and awareness is matching the scale. There is a skatepark and skateboarding themed float being planned for the Apple Blossom Festival, t-shirts (which even City Council members are wearing in support), bumper stickers, and non-profit organization status being formulated as well.
If you’re in the Wenatchee Valley you should plan to attend the next Eastmont Metro Parks Board Meeting on February 16th. If you just want to show Wenatchee your support you can also join their Facebook page.
SPS will be updated you periodically on progress made in the Wenatchee Valley.