Skate park opens after 23 years of activism


by Brad Butterfield

Buttery coping, tight transitions, steep mini-bowl, rad manny pad – they may sound like code names for undercover pornstars, but they are in fact fitting descriptions of a project 23 years in the making. An impressive 5,000 square foot concrete wonderland of ramps, rails and ledges, now stands at 1621 Gwin Road in Mckinleyville thanks to the dedicated efforts of a handful of Humboldt county residents – and there is much more to come.

The Mckinleyville skatepark’s initial spark came in 2000, when Humboldt resident Pat Hanson’s grandsons had the police hassle them for skating in a Safeway parking lot. 

“My grandma got really upset because she was like, ‘where were they supposed to skate?,’” said Ciara Torres, Pat Hanson’s granddaughter. “That kind of inspired her to get a skatepark going for her grandsons.” 

Those police ignited what would become a decades-long effort for a local skatepark that began with home baked treats.

“She started hosting fundraising out of her house with baked cookies and we started selling shirts and stickers at local events like Pony Express, and even the kinetic sculpture race,” said Torres, who used to help her grandma in fundraising for the skatepark. 

In 2011, Hanson passed on, but the cause that she spearheaded had gained traction and blossomed into a full-fledged community initiative. If all goes as planned, another 15,000 square feet of concrete will be poured next summer. On Oct. 7, the celebration was squarely focused on enjoying the immense achievement that was getting the first 25% of the park built, thanks to the dogged efforts of many locals who pushed through roadblocks for decades. 

“This is huge because people in the community have been trying to get this statepark built for over 20 years,” said Lesley Frisbee Parks & Recreation Director for the Mckinleyville Community Services District (MCSD). “I’ve worked in the district and the Parks and Rec Department for 20 years, so I’ve been aware of this project for a long time.” 

Among the many involved, and first to take the mic during the long-awaited ribbon cutting, was Charlie Caldwell, a lifelong skateboarder and director of the Humboldt Skatepark Collective. Caldwell spoke candidly about the multi-pronged effort to raise funds for the skatepark.

“We got a quarter of our skatepark built with the money that’s all been reissued community grants,” Caldwell said. “Community grants, community fundraising, like we’re doing over there at the table right now. It’s about years of selling shirts and being out in the public and trying to raise funds.” 

The price tag to build the planned 15,000 square foot addition to the skatepark is pegged around $1 million. Just as with the first 5,000 square feet of concrete, the completion date for the addition is dependent upon funding. Currently, the collective is hoping a grant will be awarded and the addition will be complete late next year. 

“I have written [to] three different grants and we’re waiting to hear if the latest grant application gets awarded to complete the project, so it’s a really big deal,” said Frisbee. “It’s very exciting to have opportunities to create in our community.” 

In the event that the grant is not awarded, fundraising will return to the grassroots precedent that Hanson started 23 years ago.

“We’ll be doing events like this on a regular basis if we don’t get the state grant,”  said Caldwell. “You’ll see us out here probably every month all summer long doing fundraisers.”

The difficulty in raising funds for the skatepark essentially forced the collective’s hand. Decades of fundraising meant the collective had about $200,000 in the bank. A substantial chunk of change, but not enough to complete the planned 20,000 square foot skatepark in one go. 

“One of the things that we decided to do is figure out what we could do with the money we already had,” said Torres. “And we decided that doing it in phases would be the best approach because the community had really lost faith in supporting us and donating money because they hadn’t seen anything in 20 years. This is basically our way of showing the community that we are doing something and we need to continue to raise money for the rest of the park.” 

If the state grant is awarded, building will commence next summer. No matter the timeline for the addition, Saturday, Oct. 7, was reserved for enjoyment of the long awaited concrete, an emotional achievement for those most closely involved. 

“It’s definitely emotional for me because my grandmother was my best friend,” Torres said. “It’s very emotional for me to feel like this is actually real. It’s almost hard for me to even think about, because I just get too emotional.”

The skatepark, having been made possible through donations small and big, grants and volunteers, needed to provide a tangible service to the community at large – a fact not lost on Frisbee.

“We are in service to this community. So we have to be really responsible for how we spend the money that people give us through tax dollars,” said Frisbee. “Not just funding for these projects to be developed, but also being mindful of what it’s going to cost us to maintain perpetuity.”

One of the many benefits to a skatepark is the eclectic and uncategorizable cast of characters it draws in. It provides a safe space for creation, growth, and adrenaline.

 “We want our community to be a place that everyone feels welcome, that businesses can thrive in. Something like a skate park brings people to the area,” said Jesse Miles, executive director for the Mckinleyville Chamber of Commerce.

Where some activities and sports attract a narrow segment of the population, skateboarding, by its very nature, tends to attract just about every type of person at all stages of life.

“You see all ages, and I mean all ages – guys in their 60s, like me, out here skating with little kids on their scooters. There’s skateboards, there’s bikes, there’s rollerblades or quad skates… they are all out here riding,” said Caldwell.

Importantly, for Mckinelyville, the skatepark will be a springboard for the local economy.

“While they’re here, they’re going to our businesses, they’re going to our restaurants, getting coffee,” said Miles. “And for the residents, it just makes it more of a reason to want to stay here because there’s opportunities for all ages.” 

In addition to boosting the economy, providing an enriching environment for kids, adults, and seniors alike, the word on the street is that the skatepark park may also have anti-aging qualities. 

“It keeps us young. You know, I will always be young at heart.” said Caldwell, who has been skating for over 50 years.

The ribbon ceremony occurred at 11 am, then, the day’s festivities kicked into gear. In addition to live music, beer on tap, and food trucks, there were several contests being held throughout the afternoon. Quad-blader Noelani Araujo praised the inclusion of a quad-skate contest alongside the many skateboarding contest categories. 

“We love this skatepark and I love the community and I think it’s nice for us all to be a part – like one with each other,”  said Araujo. “I think it’s really cool that we’re included. We’re not usually super on the front lines for this, so it’s really nice to be included.”

In an effort to build a skatepark that the community would be proud of, the planners spoke with local skaters and canvassed local DIY parks to ensure that the money was spent wisely. These efforts did not go unnoticed by the skating community.

“This is like a southern California park. This is a professional park. The concrete is nice and slippery, the transition is super proper, the coping is really mellow. I think everything is built really well,” said Cal Poly Humboldt student and dank skateboarder Jaikyn Russell.

Perhaps most critically, not only was the skatepark well-built, it has also been well waxed, as confirmed by Araujo.

“The coping is so buttery,” said Araujo.

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