Feature Article - November 2022
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Off the Ground

Building Successful Skateparks & Bike Parks

By Deborah Vence

Skateparks and bike parks can be a huge benefit to communities, essential to revitalizing an area and offering a fun and safe environment for skateboarders and BMX riders looking to expand their skills. To get a skatepark or bike park up and running requires a solid idea from the start as well as community support to successfully see the project to the end.

Park Development

"In a lot of ways a skate or bike park project follows the same fundamental development process as other parks infrastructure," said John Hunter, vice president of a company in Joplin, Mo., that designs and builds skateparks and bike parks.

However, there are some unique aspects to both skatepark and bike park development that differ from many other types of facilities. "Unlike a baseball field or tennis court, there is no standard layout or dimensions for either a skate or bike park, so the process of conceptualizing the size, layout and 'vibe' of the park is much more involved and organic," Hunter said. "Often, a skate or bike park will have more interest and engagement from the user group, which is especially helpful when soliciting input into the design or working to excite the broader community about the development of the project."

When it comes to cost, "Project costs vary greatly depending on things like size, style and construction type. So, while there is not a quick and easy cost formula, it is promising to note that a project can be developed at almost any budget. A neighborhood-sized skatepark or bicycle playground can start at $50,000, and a regional skate or bike park can cost several million dollars," Hunter added.

To get a public skatepark built, there are some steps that you can follow. A Los Angeles-based skatepark design and construction firm offers a skatepark development guide that lists "define your vision" as the first step. "Every successful project begins with a clear vision." And, "… Establishing the general style and size of skatepark you want is the first step in raising community support and showing municipal officials that you are approaching the project seriously and realistically."

The second step, "educate your municipality," involves informing municipal leaders about the vast benefits of skateparks. Some of those include the physical and mental health benefits of skateparks as well as that skateparks provide a safe environment, reduce damage to private property and offer a positive economic impact.

Other steps in the process include site selection, developing a concept design and target budget, fundraising, design and construction, and, finally, go skate!

Vince Onel, principal and vice president of development at a Los Angeles-based skatepark design company, noted the growing popularity of skateboarding and that it is "more mainstream and popular than ever. Skateboarding is no longer a fringe activity for teenage boys. It's an Olympic sport with diverse participation across gender, race and age."

Selecting a Site

Deciding on a location is another important consideration when planning a skatepark or bike park.

"The selection of a site is very dependent on the project goals. Deciding the scale of the park development and whether the plan is to serve as a small neighborhood park, a regional destination or anywhere in between will guide many decisions in site selection," Hunter said.

"No matter the size of the park, it is always good practice to select a site that is as accessible as possible by a park user who may choose to commute to the park on their board or bike. Once built, these parks become very popular and often participants will spend hours every day using the facility, so having amenities adjacent to the skate or bike area is a big plus when planning a site," he added.

Some fundamental considerations include bathrooms, sitting areas with shade and water fountains. "Even lighting is worth considering, especially in climates where daytime temperatures get too hot to comfortably and safely use the facility," Hunter added.

"Since a skate or bike park has no set facility layout or design, an undulating or asymmetrical piece of property can be an ideal location for development," he said. "Unlike a baseball field or tennis court, the design team has the opportunity to work with the uniqueness of the land instead of against it."

Important criteria to consider when choosing a site include visibility, accessibility, design canvas, barriers to shovel-ready, amenities and infrastructure, and environmental impact, as indicated in the skatepark development guide mentioned previously.

For example, when considering visibility, "Is the site surrounded by other active areas, giving users the sense that eyes could be on them at any given time?"

When determining accessibility, "How centralized is the site? Is it on the outskirts of town and difficult for the majority of residents to access?"

For the design canvas, "Is there enough space to achieve the desired square footage? Is there potential for future expansion?"

And, when considering the environmental impact, "Would use of the site for a skatepark conflict with other activities within the overall space? Would a skatepark displace an existing recreational activity?"