In its infancy, skateboarding was considered a counterculture. Surfers in California who couldn’t spend enough time on a board created one that could be used on land. It wasn’t long until the early pioneers were refining the boards and challenging their limits. Empty pools became the first skateparks, and curbs, handrails, and doing tricks off other urban obstacles was another way for emerging skaters to push the limits. It didn’t go over well with everyone. Dodging boarders on public sidewalks and seeing marks and cuts on concrete left by the grind of a skateboard initially turned a lot of people off to the activity and those who participated in it. 7b Boardshop owner Rory Whitney was part of the early skateboard scene around Sandpoint during the mid-‘90s and early 2000s. “There were very scarce opportunities at the time, so we found spots—curbs, ledges, gaps—and made do with what we could find,” he explained.
Rory and his pals were issued citations on more than one occasion. “It started as no skatepark, and we had to tell them not to skate downtown even though there was nowhere else to go,” said Parks, Recreation and Open Space Director Kim Woodruff. As the X Games appeared on TV, skateboarding started becoming more mainstream, with more and more kids starting up the sport. Recognizing the increased number of riders, the city and leaders of the local skate community began laying the groundwork for a skatepark where riders could go and be challenged while helping decrease skate traffic downtown.
In 2006 the Concrete Lake skatepark at Travers Park was officially opened. It was an instant hit and, according to the city, it is today the most utilized park feature across the entire parks system. “There’s no lighting there, but after dark cars will turn their headlights on so they can still skate,” said Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton.
As interest in skateboarding continues to grow exponentially, both the city and local skate community feel it’s time to expand skating opportunities and are now working together to achieve this goal. As part of the city’s master plan, an additional 18,000 square feet is being made available at Travers to expand the skate park and accommodate the increased use.
Developing the master plan took 12 months, and the public had many opportunities to weigh in. “What we heard at all public engagement opportunities was the need to upgrade the skate park facilities,” said Jennifer. While not typical visitors to local government meetings, many youth skaters showed up to these engagements, giving their input and wanting to be part of the process. The master plan was approved in September, and about the same time the newly formed Bonner County Skatepark Association was formed with a goal of raising funds to help complete the project.
Rory, along with Jordan Carlson, Adam Hall, Carl Preston and Dave Pecha are helping lead the organization. Carl and Dave were both heavily involved in the creation of the first skatepark and are excited to see expansion projects move forward. As the owner of a local skate shop, Rory can attest first hand just how much the sport is growing and the new faces he’s beginning to see. “I see young kids getting into it, and it’s really cool seeing their dads get back on the board with them. We have a lot of women and girls getting into skating as well, which is awesome,” he said.
In its current state, the park can no longer support the high demand of its users. It is crowded seven days a week. “It needs to be taken care of,” said Rory. “One of the bowls is dilapidated, the coping and cement are in rough shape.” The city agrees with his assessment. “It’s been 15 years since it was developed and needs a refresh instead of just patching,” said Jennifer.
Design for the expanded park has not yet gotten underway, but the Bonner County Skatepark Association has several regional communities it can look to once it’s secured its funding. Missoula and Coeur d’Alene have both recently introduced new skateparks and added features at other locations. Instead of separating obstacles, new parks are designed with more natural flow, where riders of all abilities can find a challenge. “We’ve chatted with the Coeur d’Alene guys and the Montana Skatepark Association, and it’s great because we all want to help each other out,” said Rory.
While still in the beginnings of fundraising efforts, the Bonner County Skatepark Association will soon begin soliciting donations from local businesses and creating events to help create the dollars needed for the project. The city is pitching in by giving the group access to its full-time grant writer. “This year alone she’s leveraged $600,000 in grants for the master plan at War Memorial, and we have no doubt that she will be successful in helping bring funds for the skatepark,” said Jennifer.
Having been at the grand opening of the first park and seeing firsthand the evolution of skateboarding in the community, Kim is confident that this will be a good investment and something the local skate community will take pride in and care for. “We have near zero graffiti, and I believe it’s because the users respect the facility so much. It’s a culture and expectation, and we appreciate that and are very proud of it,” he said.
Numbers are still being crunched, but Rory feels around $500,000 would get a good start, and $1 million would be a phenomenal goal to reach. He believes the benefits to the community go way beyond the surface. “It’s such a good spot for kids to express their creativity in a controlled environment. Skateboarders are athletes too, just like football and basketball. We’re just looking for a little more space,” he said.
Kim is excited to work with some of the same people he did 15 years ago on the first project. He also hopes to work with Ponderay, Kootenai, Dover and other areas to help expand opportunities in those communities as well. He plans on first doing some small improvements with the association at Hickory Park in order to get the ball moving. “There are street skate opportunities we can blend into the park, and it’s a way we can show people we can work together toward the ultimate goal,” he said.
That ultimate goal is a state-of-the-art park that can accommodate this ever-growing sport— which will be in the Olympics for the first time next summer. If fundraising goes to plan, the parties hope to cut the ribbon sometime in the next two to three years. “It means a lot that skateboarding is accepted by the city and the community. I used to get tickets as a kid, and now it’s great to see the city embrace and work with us to make this happen,” said Rory.
More information on this project can be found at BCSkatepark.com or by reviewing the City of Sandpoint’s master plan.