Philomath Skate Park
The Philomath Skate Park opened during the summer of 2000. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)
Liam Gaskill skateboarding
Crescent Valley sophomore Liam Gaskill, 16, maneuvers his way through the skate park recently in Philomath City Park. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

When a new skate park in Philomath City Park opened during the summer of 2000, complaints about its design surfaced immediately — the complex was too small, most of the ramps were too steep and a lack of flow led to skaters needing to stop after a few seconds to disrupt their runs.

But those observations didn’t stop many kids from using the new addition to the community. The skate park became a fun place to hang out and a few even wanted to start a conversation about expanding it.

Twenty years later, the conversation continues.

A few efforts popped up through the years involving small groups that wanted to see improvements take place but none of them materialized. A current movement underway in town appears to have some momentum.

The skate park discussion’s most recent venture into the public eye picked up steam out of a Feb. 14, 2019 Park Advisory Board meeting in which a local family shared their views.

The board members heard from Ian and Kim Maness, along with son, Walter, then a middle schooler, that Philomath’s skate park was not user friendly for beginners and could be seen as a safety risk. In fact, they would travel to skate parks in other cities.

Blake Niemann at skate park
Philomath High junior Blake Niemann, 16, rides at the skate park. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Izzie Elliott, a park board member then and now, started to become interested while the Maness family proposed a safer design that could attract local youth.

“That was one of my first introductions to the skate park not being perfect. I didn’t know the difference between a skate park that works and one that doesn’t work,” she recalled.

Elliott, who enjoys riding her bike around town, said she often sees kids at the skate park and one day struck up a conversation. She learned how they felt about the park with the kids even demonstrating various difficulties.

“They said ‘beginners cannot even start here because everything’s angular, nothing is a bowl,’” Elliott recalled them saying. “They said ‘we hang out here because it’s the closest place to go but it’s unusable.’”

The effort to improve the skate park design has evolved into the formation of BABS — the Build A Better Skatepark group. Elliott is among those involved with the group, which wants to raise awareness and attract support with hopes to raise money.

“Our purpose right now is to raise awareness about the conditions of the skate park as it currently is and we’re asking the community for support — to write the City Council and say we’re all onboard wanting to build a better skate park,” Elliott said.

But does the majority of Philomath residents want to lend support to a better skate park ahead of other projects on the horizon? The city has long been wanting to upgrade or replace outdated restrooms at Philomath City Park.

And although a veterans memorial park on the corner of College and North 16th streets is a fairly new concept with the property donated in 2019, it fills a targeted need for a neighborhood park in that part of town. The city can also hold up its end of the bargain to establish the park as part of an agreement with the family making the gift.

Elliott said that this past fall, more than 200 signatures were collected among community members showing support for improving the skate park. The signatures were collected online, at last summer’s farmers’ market and by reaching out to young people.

Various estimates on costs associated with a new skate park have often revolved around $250,000 to $350,000 — those figures both mentioned by Elliott and City Manager Chris Workman.

Dreamland Skateparks, based in Lincoln City, has consulted with the local group on the project. Asked what price tag she would put on a Philomath project, Dreamland co-owner Danyel Scott said $150,000 for a park renovation and $50,000 for a new bowl addition.

Much of the current conversation revolves around the city’s Park Master Plan update, which Workman estimates will be finished mid-year. The current master plan does not include a skate park project or recognize any deficiencies with the current site.

Ethan Manchette at skate park
Ethan Manchette, a 15-year-old sophomore at Philomath High, rides at the skate park. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“We’re just starting a Park Master Plan update and part of that is a survey and outreach to the community,” Workman said. “We’re going to hear back from the community what their priorities are and things where they’d like to see improvements … We’ll take that in and have some recommendations for the consultant on projects the city should consider putting on that project list. Then we’ll have to work through and prioritize those projects.”

The skate park issue came up during a Feb. 11 Public Works Committee meeting and in that discussion, Workman said it would be premature to include it in the capital improvement plan. Finance Director Joan Swanson reiterated that the skate park would need to be included in the Park Master Plan with its priority determined, and then the city would start to look at identifying funding sources.

“I’m assuming, there’s a good chance from the support that we’re hearing from a few individuals that a skateboard park improvement or new skateboard park will likely be on that list,” Workman said, ”but I don’t know where it’s going to fall as far as priorities go because there are other things on that list as well.”

Elliott acknowledges the Park Master Plan process and that a skate park need must be identified but believes “we can come to that conclusion now and start fundraising.”

Funding for facilities such as skate parks often come through grant programs.

Rocco De La Rosa at skate park
Seventh grader Rocco De La Rosa, 12, rides at the Philomath Skate Park. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“Those are great projects for grants, they’re great applications for grants, they hit all the buttons — they give kids something to do after school and they’re active,” Workman said.

However, state grants have seen cutbacks this year related to the pandemic. In other words, finding money to finance a project with those costs might take a while.

Elliott knows grants will be needed and mentioned that the local group has plans to reach out to local businesses. The organization hopes to build a base of money through community support, which could then in turn stabilize the overall picture to attract other grants.

For now, as Elliott said, the Build A Better Skatepark group wants to spread the word on what they see as an important need in the community.

“We want to let people know that functional skate parks are part of a healthy community,” Elliott said. “Think about kids that don’t want to be involved in competitive sports. This is a place where they can develop their skills. Say they’re really passionate about skateboarding yet if you live in Philomath, how can you be passionate about skateboarding if you have a skateboard park that is unusable?”

Elliott can quote various sources that identify benefits connected to skating — examples being healthy bodies, fine-tuning problem-solving skills and developing resilience.

Dreamland Skateparks’ Scott gave the current skate park poor marks.

“I went out to the current skate park site and was blown out of the water that kids actually rode that park,” Scott said. “It is really in disrepair.”

Dreamland has provided the local group with various support, including the forming of a conceptual design for fundraising.

“It’s dangerous; it doesn’t function correctly,” Scott said. “There isn’t any flow to the park, the ramps are in terrible condition and it is very difficult to ride.”

Philomath Skate Park
The Philomath Skate Park opened during the summer of 2000. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

No formal agreements with that company for their services have been reached.

Elliott said one person suggested going beyond a skate park redesign and build a more comprehensive action sports complex that could accommodate BMX riding, for example.

For now, Build A Better Skatepark hopes the community will make their voices heard to the city.

Said Elliott: “What the advocacy group wants to do is make sure that if you’re asked, what do you think needs to be done or improved, the skateboard park will rise to the top of their lists or action sports complex will rise to the top.”

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Grant Niemann at skate park
Philomath eighth-grader Grant Niemann, 14, rides a scooter at the skate park. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)