Feature Article - February 2011
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Get In On the Action

Action Sports Parks Bigger, Better, More Balanced Than Ever

By Daniel P. Smith

Trend: Blending Diverse Materials

What was once wood or concrete has turned into so much more. As action sports parks get creative with landscaping, layout, and design, the action sports complex becomes an aesthetic, multi-level space that can be enjoyed by skateboarders and riders as well as other citizens. The streetscape design also pushes material choices to be just as considerate.

In many cases, a number of burgeoning national design firms boast landscape designers and park planners with action sports participation backgrounds, a mix that is helping to push both BMX and skateparks into mainstream parks and recreation and giving rise to a new industry specialization. As a result, ingenuity and experimentation runs high, including a shift toward mixed terrain.

The entry to the Bemidji Skate Park features a skateable entry sign that is as artistic and sculptural as it is functional. Imposing and stylistic, the park's large boulders double as spectator seating. The park also includes a number of other aesthetic elements that play with materials: colored concrete patterns to differentiate the park from others in the area, saw cuts in the concrete flatwork, notches in the ledges, black painted steel and cantilevered banks that deliver a sculptural look.

At the Heritage Park Skate Plaza in St. Cloud, everything is custom-built of concrete, granite or metal. (Located amid various granite quarries, one local operation donated $20,000 in granite to the project.) The unique mix of these sturdy, industrial materials, including various concrete mixes to achieve the proper grip and durability, creates a facility high in functional longevity and style. St. Cloud, which combines inventive landscape design featuring an assortment of hardscapes and softscapes amid the skatepark layout, has subsequently become a place for many to mingle. The plaza is also currently seeking LEED certification, touting its drainage wells and rain gardens as well as the design's repurposing of existing land features as first-rate environmental features.

"With St. Cloud," Nims said, "skatepark design has hit a new plateau."

The mix of different materials at both Minnesota streetscape skate facilities, including inventive combinations of greenery options, fosters a more natural environment as opposed to the artificial concrete playground where skaters have long been sentenced to skate.