Get In on the Action
Programming Skateparks & Bike Parks for Safety & Success
By Joe Piaskowy
The debate is over: Skateboarding and biking (BMX and mountain) have become mainstream staples of American communities and two of the most popular sports for young men and women.
According to Statista.com, in 2014 there were 6.8 million skateboarders in the United States, half of which were under the age of 17. The same site says roughly 1 million people under the age of 25 identify as freestyle bike riders (BMX). Compare that to the 2.4 million kids who participated in Little League Baseball in 2013 (the last year Little League participation was tallied) and you get a sense of just how popular the sports have become.
As such, chances are you either already have a skatepark, or bike park, in your town or you're considering putting one in. Whether you have one already, are getting ready to put one in, or are debating adding an action park to your community, this article should give you some ideas and advice on how to use programming to best set your park up for long-term success.
Skaters for Public Skateparks sums the importance of programming well, "Skatepark programming can help prevent injuries and avoid safety issues, discourage illicit behavior, and even help to temper the obnoxiously lawless climate that a mismanaged skatepark may develop."
Let's take a look at some of the ways strong programming can lead to a safer, more vibrant park, as well as get some expert advice on how programming can lead to a stronger more successful park.
Programming and Safety
Most major injuries and deaths don't occur at skateparks. Most happen from falls on irregular public surfaces like stairs, rails and curbs or when cars strike skaters or bikers.
According to Skaters for Public Skateparks, in 2014 there were 28 skateboard-related deaths, 23 of which were due to skateboarders being struck by a car while skateboarding on the street. There were zero skatepark-related deaths in 2014.
As the popularity of both skating and biking grows, it becomes more and more imperative that communities create safe spaces for the youth to gather and practice their craft.
The Tony Hawk Foundation points out on its website that, "With 6.8 million skateboarders in the U.S., and only about 3,500 skateparks available for them to ride, the need for more safe skateparks has never been greater."
An obvious benefit of good programming means you'll keep skaters and bikers at the park and off the streets, providing a safe place for them to develop their skills.
Programming can also help here by providing skate and BMX lessons to beginners, as well as more experienced athletes. Not only does this allow for you to teach proper form and safety methods, but helps grow your pool of potential visitors as you're teaching novices techniques that will make them feel much more comfortable at the park.
Strong Programming Can Reduce Damage to Private Property
"If your town doesn't have a skatepark, it is one."
– Skate Association of the United States of America
Not having a skatepark doesn't mean that people aren't going to skate or BMX. It just means that they will be forced to hone their skills on public and, sometimes, private property.
Fourteen-year-old Moises Pagan recently told the Orlando Sentinel that he and his friends have weekly confrontations with the police and that "If we had a skatepark, we would always be there, and there would be no problems with the cops or any vandalism."
Strong programming keeps kids at the park and off private property. These programs could include contests, camps, classes, etc. The important thing is that the youth feel connected to and invested in the park.
"In my experience, the programs that work best are those run out of the local parks department, but managed by volunteers through the local skatepark advocacy group or local retail skateshop," said Peter Whitley, programs director for the Tony Hawk Foundation.
It's Not Just About Skaters
You may be asking yourself at this point, what about the bikers? While skateparks do provide a great place for BMX riders to hone their craft, there is a whole new crop of biker-only parks popping up around the country.
One of the most successful and progressive bike parks is the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, Colo. Built in 2011, the 42-acre park has four miles of bike trails and more than three dozen terrain-park features.
Valmont Bike Park took a progressive approach to programming when it opened the process up to pitches from local contractors and selected two winners. Valmont City Park Manager, Skyler Beck, provided further detail in saying, "together, (the) two contractors provide programs, clinics and lessons to over 350 cyclists annually from the beginner to expert skill level."
They didn't stop there, though. They also partnered with more than two dozen businesses, agencies and organizations to offer additional onsite and offsite services such as programs, demos, food, lodging and support. "It is important to strike a balance with daily users and private programs," Beck added. "We want to be open to the public as much as possible, as the park was funded by tax dollars and we want to honor that, but private programs also help recoup some cost as well as bring in additional visitors."
So, What's the Answer?
While this article focused largely on skateparks, the insights here work with any type of action park. In talking with Peter Whitley, Skyler Beck and other park district and action park administrators, a few best practices kept popping up that should help guide you and your team's thinking around action park programming:
- Engagement is essential. Involve skaters, bikers, local business owners and action sports organizations early and often.
- Find the right balance between private and public programming. You obviously want to keep the park open to the public as much as possible, but at the same time, private programming can offer additional revenue streams as well as word-of-mouth marketing if your events or classes are successful.
- Cater to all skill levels. You don't want to focus solely on beginner classes and alienate more experienced athletes and vice versa. It's important to offer programs that cater to all skill levels and ages.
- Don't be afraid to partner with a third party to handle programming. "It takes a lot of work to offer the quality programming that can be really successful. That's why we went with Avid 4 Adventure because they are a proven quality organization that keeps offering quality programming and it's comforting to me to know that programs will continue to be successful because they have a proven record," Beck said.
When it comes to programming, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What is clear, though, is that it is an important aspect to all action parks, and the ones with the best programming see the most sustained visitors and growth year over year.
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