Not Just Another Skate Park
By Trice Hawkins
Location: St. Clair, Michigan
St. Clair was faced with a problem—the popularity of non-traditional risk-taking sports and the lack of a gathering place for these activities to take place. The result was the unwelcome presence of skateboarders on our sidewalks and school properties and in our driveways and parking lots. Without a facility, where were the skateboarders to go?
The Park and Recreation Department, members of the community, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary Club requested our city council address the situation.
They suggested a skate park, which would provide a safer environment than sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, and streets. City council approved a Skatepark Committee in 2007, whose mission was to plan a park that was safe for skateboarding and biking, but that also had a community atmosphere. The decision to design for both skateboards and bikes was based on the fact that most kids own a bike, trends are always changing, and other area skateparks did not allow bikes.
The Committee researched community need, site locations, existing skateparks, safety, liability, maintenance, and funding. They conducted site visits, met with vendors, and solicited design ideas from local skateboarders. In September 2008 city council approved the location for the future skate park, site plan preparation, and the pursuing of funds.
Because of skateboarding’s unwelcome history in our city, we needed to promote this as an intergenerational project to dispel inaccurate stereotypes, share talents and resources, and provide unified community support. Student involvement and ownership in the park was needed. Two learning labs involving students, civic leaders, and American Ramp Company (ARC) designers resulted in our park layout. Students learned fiscal responsibility and were selective about what components to include. Students also attended council meetings, participated in civic fundraisers, and made presentations to foundations and school organizations.
Student involvement in the design, planning, and construction helped ensure proper use and the greatest impact on our community. Our community skate-bike park design criteria included: multi-use, both skate and bike; a 20’ x 80’ concrete surface; modular ramps/components; fencing enclosure; landscaping; drinking fountain; seating; parking; security lighting; and option for a dirt pump track. The concrete and fencing was installed in 2009, and skatepark components in 2010. The decision for a concrete or modular skatepark is a community decision—all options should be considered. We contracted the Michigan-based action sport design team Creative Consulting Services (CCS) to provide our pump track design in spring 2011.
Partnerships dedicated to improving the quality of life and providing new recreational opportunities were pursued. The Rotary of St. Clair committed to this project by establishing a Fundraising Steering Committee and designating their funds. It truly made this project possible. With the help of the Rotary Club and Steering Committee Chairperson Douglas Murphy, year-to-date we have received over $180,000 in donations. The largest portion of funds was received from local and county foundations. Local distribution of the St. Clair County parks and recreation millage and skate park grant funds ($90,000) were also used.
Student and parent organizations conducted fundraisers. The school donations were combined to purchase the drinking fountain at the park. Our project also included a Home Depot Foundation community build which included a one-day beautification project. Home Depot provided the funding and employees to plant trees, bushes, and flowers; and to construct flower boxes and benches. Community volunteers were also recruited.
Incorporating student public art provided an opportunity for individuality and creative expression. It also deters graffiti and other forms of vandalism. Local artist, art teacher, and skateboarder Jason Stier served on our Skate-Bike Park Committee and encouraged student public artwork to enhance our park design. Students painted murals and trash cans for the park. The city recreation department and St. Clair Art Association co-sponsored a skateboard design contest for park benches. We also co-sponsored a skate-bike park video contest with the St. Clair Chamber of Commerce.
A customized archway designed by Jason Stier made entirely of recycled parts including bicycle and skateboard parts and a discarded utility pole. All labor was donated, including the design, welding, painting, and masonry work. Two local foundations sponsored a customized metal and concrete “Freighter” sculpture. This one-of-a-kind component and artwork helps to establish our park as a destination site.
Programming and providing special events help to sustain the park and generate continued public support. A grand opening and skate-bike competition was held on June 19, 2010. The Recreation Department sponsors an annual Fall Grind Event. Competitions include events for skateboards, bikes, in-line skates, and scooters. Free Flow, Best Trick, and S.K.A.T.E. events are popular. Local skateboarders and bikers are recruited as volunteers to help with events and judging.
On June 18, 2011, with the help of local sponsors, we were included on the Adrenaline Game Alliance Nation Summer Tour. Our Summer Jam Event was a state qualifier for the Meijer State Games and allowed us to showcase our park and local talent.
Our skatepark provides a great place to ride. For non-skaters, it’s a place to go and watch the action. A skatepark often provides the first opportunity most people have to see skateboarding live. It makes skateboarding much more real and fosters a greater appreciation for it.
Our Skate-Bike Park won the 2011 Facility Design award from the Michigan Recreation and Park Association (MRPA). This award is presented to MRPA agency members in honor of outstanding landscape, facility/architectural and park design. In addition, the Rotary Club of St. Clair awarded St. Clair Recreation Director, Trice Hawkins, and students Jordan Huffman and Walker Child with its 2011 Merit Award; and Rotarian Douglas Murphy received the Citizen/Rotarian of the Year.
Community, design, and incorporating cultural arts made our park a success.
Trice Hawkins is the recreation director for the city of St. Clair. You may reach her at
810-329-7121 x215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.