Top: Public skate parks offer skate-boarders a safe place to ride; many offer lessons to help beginners prevent injury. Photo: City of Carbondale, Colo. Bottom: While many skate parks consist of structures built on top of a slab, skaters prefer parks with excavated features such as “bowls”—which resemble empty swimming pools. Photo: Greater Clark Parks District

Skateboarding is big business. In recent years, the skate-board gear market has grown to $600 million a year.

Thanks to the surge in popularity, another number has become fairly high as well: More than 100,000 skateboarding injuries are treated in U.S. emergency rooms each year. Skaters often don't have safe common areas in which to practice their art, so they congregate in parking lots, streets, and other places where collisions with vehicles are all but inevitable.

In November 2000, the Greater Clark (Clark County, Wash.) Parks District started looking at turning its 56-acre Pacific Community Park into a first-class, multipurpose facility. Like any forward-thinking parks department, managers actively solicited constituent input. Skateboard and BMX bike enthusiasts showed up in large numbers at meetings, clamoring for a park that would give them a safe place to roll. “They came to every meeting we held,” says parks communication specialist Jilayne Jordan. “Skateboarding is the fastest-growing sport in the country, and they and the BMXers had nowhere to go. They said, ‘We really, really need this.'”

After the district added an Extreme Sports Park to the overall plan, the enthusiasts continued to add their two cents, advising planners what features the area should have to best serve skaters and BMX riders of all abilities. Next, the department engaged Seattle-based Grindline, a design/build firm specializing in skateparks, to bring the skaters'dreams to reality. In February, the department broke ground on a 20,000-square-foot concrete park with “bowls” (inspired by the empty swimming pools favored in the early days of skating), ramps, rails, and a “full pipe”—a short tunnel to skate through and perform tricks in.

Throughout the process, the department worked to avoid the mistakes made by other communities that have tried to satisfy the needs of skateboarders.

For example, the spectacle of skaters flipping their boards and bodies in the air, understandably, draws crowds of spectators, but with only a few benches scattered around their perimeters other area skate parks have been surrounded by disorganized crowds, which poses a safety risk. By contrast, this Extreme Sports Park features ample bleacher seating so fans have a safe place from which to gawk at skaters. As an added bonus, the bleachers make the facility attractive to organizers looking to rent the park out for competitions, exhibitions, and other ticketed sporting events.

One obstacle: money. At the outset of planning, the department had virtually no budget for building and maintaining new parks, so it requested a property tax increase. Although voters approved the measure, it covered only half of the project's $600,000 total cost. To date, the department has finished half of the park. Phase II will require an extra $350,000, but fundraising efforts are well under way; the department has pulled in a chunk of the money through a BMX contest in summer 2006, and a recent car wash.

While the entire Pacific Community Park is scheduled to open by June 2008, skaters champing at the bit have clamored for the district to open the Extreme Sports Park early. They're getting their wish—by the end of this month, Phase I will be ready to roll.