cover_story_3 (2007-03)

Health & Fitness Issue (continued)

It’s hard to figure what’s a weirder sight on this Sunday afternoon on the western end of Northshore—the eerily warm January weather that has lured a herd of kids out to the cluster of rec facilities just past Concord Park, or the fact that a huge portion of those youngsters are skaterats, all baggy pants and wallet chains and emo tees. That’s right: skateboarders, brazenly boarding in public, rolling and jumping and swooshing around on their sturdy little wooden and fiberglass steeds, happily oblivious to any notion that their hobby has never really been accepted as a proper pastime for the youth of Knox County by the Powers That Be.

But the sort of attitude that has traditionally cast skaters as delinquents and scofflaws hereabouts may be on the verge of changing, with the unveiling of the county’s first public skatepark in Concord. Just opened in December, the 2,500-square-foot skating area next to the field hockey court on Northshore is the first of a series of planned satellite skateparks, heralding the much larger public park that will begin construction near the University of Tennessee this summer.

“There’s been some confusion, when people see the new park in Concord and they think, ‘Is that it? Is that the big skatepark they’ve been talking about?’” says Brian Beauchene, Pluto Sports proprietor and a leading skatepark advocate. “The answer is no; the really big one is still coming. But the one in Concord is important, because it marks the first time ever in Knox County where we can say, ‘This is where you can go and skate, and not worry about getting in trouble for it.’”

As a member of the eight-man Knoxville Skatepark Task Force, Beauchene worked with city parks director Joe Walsh, county parks director Doug Bataille and Knoxville City Councilman Chris Woodhull in studying skate facilities in other cities to figure how to best serve the area’s long-suffering skateboard aficionados, who have traditionally been hassled for skating in public by police and property owners alike.

“We figured that if we just had one big park in the downtown area, then smaller kids without access to transportation won’t have as much opportunity,” Beauchene says. “They can learn to skate out here; then as they become older, they can come downtown.”

The median age at Concord on this particular afternoon looks to be around 16 years old, but there are older skaters, too, including a 30ish guy with shrub-like muttonchops and fading sleeves of tattoos and ear expanders the size of caster cups. And many of the visitors today don’t live in West Knox, either; local skaters have been so starved for a sanctioned skating area that even older, more experienced boardsmen are trekking out to Concord, which is by design a small, beginners-oriented park.

“It’s not great, but it’s way better than what we had before,” says 24-year-old Alfred Bautista, a longtime skater who came here this afternoon from his home in South Knoxville. “We had nothing before, and when the big one opens, we’ll have the best.”

Bautista pauses to look out over the placid lakeside vista, and adds, “and it’s such a nice view here. It’s sick.”

“Our research shows that the trend is to have several small satellite skateparks in addition to a large, central one,” says county parks head Doug Bataille. He says the new Concord park, operated by the county, cost about $50,000, split evenly between surfacing expenses and ramps. It’s free to the public, open daily from sunrise to 10 p.m.

Beauchene notes that its layout and positioning—the skating surface is wide open, and readily viewable from Northshore—makes for easy supervision. “It’s not hidden away somewhere it can’t be watched,” he says “’Cause sometimes, kids will be kids.”

But the youth who show up at Concord look to be serious about their skating—they’re either skating, or intently watching their fellows do so; there’s not much “hanging out” going on this day. And even though it’s mid-winter, the park has been hella busy for the whole of its brief existence—over 1,500 visits in three weeks, by Bataille’s count. “Too many skaters showing up has been the only problem so far,” Bataille chuckles.

And of course there’s the big one, the $500,000, 20,000-odd-square-foot anchor park that should break ground in Tyson Park around mid-summer, and host its first skateboarders sometime next fall. Beauchene notes that construction was set back a little from a previous timetable because the University of Tennessee Lady Vols Softball squad is currently using the site until a new softball field is complete.

Beauchene says park officials have settled on a final plan from noted skatepark designer Wally Hollyday, a veteran of more than 100 similar skatepark projects, and whom Beauchene calls “the best designer in the world for the money we’re spending.”

With only a few, small changes pending, Beauchene says the final design calls for a mixture of beginner, intermediate and advanced skating options, from “street” features like stairs and ledges to traditional skatepark reservoir bowls. To use skater’s parlance, the new park will include “curbs, funboxes, stairs, rails, eurogaps, banks, bowls, freeflow areas, and vert.”

“This plan suits everyone,” Beauchene says. “It passed the skaters’ vision for a good park; the Public Building Authority guy said it was structurally sound; and the parks directors liked the value for the money spent.”

A dyed-in-the-wool skaterat himself, Beauchene is borderline effusive when he ladles praise on the process that has given local skateboarders their first sanctioned public park. “I’m especially proud of our parks guys for the work they’ve put in, not just signing the checks,” he says. “They’ve done their research. If you don’t, you end up with a park system that’s more trouble than successful.

“Just like a lot of the kids, I’m a little bummed that it hasn’t happened sooner,” he adds. “But for a government project, this whole thing is moving along pretty well. I’m real happy with everything else—the design, the builder, the work they’ve put in. We’re going to have not just a good skatepark, but an exceptional skatepark, with good satellites on each end of town.”

Health & Fitness Issue (continued)