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

Spotlight on Fresno, Calif.
The Nation's Action Sports Park
Recreational Capitol

Perhaps no American city embraces the action-sports-as-recreation mantra more so than Fresno, the central California city of 500,000 with nine action sport destinations and—in a sign of just how invested the city's parks department is in its vertical adrenaline offerings—an aptly titled action sports supervisor role filled by Ryan Garcia.

Fresno features four dual-use modular ramp parks, a trio of concrete parks—one for BMX only, another for skateboarding and a third for both, one 42-foot wide, 13-foot high vertical ramp formerly used in the Gravity Games, and the new 10-acre Woodward Mountain Bike Skills Progression Park, which features a mountain bike trail, BMX track race and dirt jump park.

Given its central California location along with a citywide embrace of the action sports spirit, Garcia said the creation of each facility was aimed at appeasing both micro and macro considerations.

"There was certainly a method to our madness," Garcia explained. "First, we had a lot of athletes in this area with no place to go, and we wanted to create local venues for their use. Second, we wanted to capitalize on our location to hold both state and national events or to rent these facilities to others, which would create revenue and also boost the local economy with tourism."

In 2008, Woodward's first year of operation, Fresno hosted state and national events, attracting visitors from throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. Locals and guests continue to be wowed by a bike complex built to reside among the world's elite.

"Everything I would want in a facility has been created in my own backyard," said Garcia, himself a 20-year bike rider. "The director said he wanted the biggest and best and that's what we delivered."

With its assortment of distinct parks, Fresno sits in a unique position to comment on the longstanding cement-or-modular debate, a conversation that continues lingering well into the 21st century. In spite of its costly price tag, concrete has gained steam as the preferred choice—its durability and aesthetic possibilities being of particular appeal as momentum for plaza-style design thrives. Modular parks, sometimes plagued by deterioration, continue to be an option for many, largely given cost considerations.

"With modular, you can spread your money further and you also have the ability to move the elements, which is beneficial for a parks department that has to be responsive to new recreational needs," Garcia said.

In Fresno, community input maintains a hallowed spot in any new action sports park's creation. The city will hold community meetings at a school near the park's proposed site, often soliciting sketches or providing participants with clay to mold their desired features. The public dialogue then sparks a rendering, which undergoes additional community scrutiny.

"In the end, we're building the park for them," Garcia said. "Unlike baseball fields, which generally all look the same, the skatepark or bike park is a blank canvas. We have the ability to create the portrait our users want and, as a result, you'll never see the same park twice."