Picture this: Eugene, Oregon, 1990, not a skatepark to be seen. Skaters tearing up anything they see, hitting rails of businesses, racing down bike paths and side walks, searching for somewhere to belong and somewhere to hone their skills. With nowhere to go, they skate anywhere and everywhere; with their boards in their hands or under their feet, they scour Eugene. Then, one year later, there is hope: between the combined efforts of the city and the Eugene school district, funds are raised and a small park is constructed in Amazon park. The park is tiny -made up of nothing but smooth concrete and curved walls- though it doesn’t matter. The skaters finally had their place. A place to call their own.
Ten years later: a boom. Between 2001 and 2003, five additional parks are constructed and plans for more are in the works. Skaters now have a choice of where to go and can have a preference of what to skate. The skating community, one that has been rapidly growing since the construction of the small Amazon park, is able to spread it’s numbers out and allow for more than just skaters: inline rollerblades, BMX bikers, even a scooter or two, can be seen cutting through the curves or riding down the rails. Indeed, skateparks have gained ground here in Eugene.
These parks can be found in neighborhoods all over Eugene. Some were constructed near schools to allow for easy access from younger skaters; some were built to encourage legal skating and discourage boarding on public property; and some, like the plans for a park under the Washing-Jefferson bridge, were thought up to be bigger and better than the one before. Emily Proudsoot, the landscape architect for parks and open space planning in Eugene, spoke about Eugene’s relationship with the parks: “Eugene was a really early adapter to skateparks…early on, the city recognized a need for places to skate.” Proudsoot went on to say that the plan to build a 20,000 square foot Washington-Jefferson park has had a large amount of support, though plans have came to stall after 2008.
Besides serving as simply a place to skate, the parks, and the areas in which they are located, act as a place where young and old citizens can enjoy their day and give meaning to a space that would have normally gone unused. The areas that may have at one point been an open field or empty lot, become something that people can admire and want to protect, leading to less crime and vagrancy. “Public space with no use can sometimes foster illegal activity,” said Tod Schneider, a crime prevention specialist for the Eugene PD. Besides the parks serving as a deterrent to crime and a use for space, Schneider commented on the community aspect of the skate parks, saying, “In order to have a vibrant community, you need to put in things for all interests.” He then went on to discuss the notion of “crime prevention through environmental design” which involves the skateparks and their ability to easily transform these empty spaces with a few rails and a lot of concrete.
The parks themselves are all different: some have rails, some don’t; some are larger (like the 8,500 sq foot Churchill park) and some are small ( the under 2,000 sq foot Amazon); one, the Trainsong park off Bethel Drive, is even made of metal. Though with all of these differences, they all serve the same purpose, they all are there to skate. If, though, you’re more particular about where to go, knowing the individual parks always helps:
Amazon (commonly called the Amazon Bowl): built in 1991 in the center of Amazon Park, near the recreation facility and dog park. As the smallest and oldest park in Eugene, it is entirely made of concrete with no rails, boxes or kickers. It’s design lends itself mostly to vert-style skaters, though there is a nearby level area for flat-ground tricks and a main running path that can take skaters to other parts of the park. Although the park itself holds hours of operation, the main paths are always lit for people passing through the area.
Bethel: an approximately 8,000 square foot park, located near the Bethel Middle School off of Babe Ruth Street. The park which was built in 2002, features rails, boxes, quarter pipes and ledges, as well as some slight inclines in parts of the concrete. Because of it’s size and variety of obstacles, the park is good for both novice and veteran skaters, and usually has enough space where there is always room to skate.
Cal Young: this 6,000 square foot park, located off of Crescent Avenue next to Cal Young Middle School, was built in 2001 and may in many ways have been the precursor to Bethel. With a large variety of ledges, rails and quarter pipes, there is something for every skater and skill level. Though not quite as large as Bethel, it’s location lends itself more to smaller crowds and shorter waits while still creating the feeling of a larger park.
Churchill: built in 2001 and located off of Bailey Hill Road and 18th, this park clocks in as Eugene’s largest at over 8,500 square feet. Though what it offers in size, it gives up in variety; unlike most other parks in the city, Churchill is made up entirely of bowls and quarter pipes and offers nothing in the way of rails or ledges for the more street-oriented skaters. This park is also a favorite of BMX riders due to it’s focus on ramps and bowls.
Trainsong: a black sheep in the bunch if there was one, this park is of smaller size and different material; it’s all-steel ramps and rails offer skaters a different feel than the normal concrete would provide, and it’s small size of only 4,000 square feet makes for a different riding experience. The park was built in 2003, and is located off of Edison Street and Bethel Drive.
Emerald: another small park of approximately 4,000 square feet, Emerald offers skaters a proportioned mix of bowls, rails and boxes. What makes this park different, something that attracts skaters to the area, is the fact that it seems to be the least well known out of all of them and is easier to find space to skate. The park is located at 1400 Lake Drive.
These parks are what make up the organized skating scene in Eugene, and serve as a testament to a growing interest in and recognition of skateboarding in the area. Although it has been years since the last one was built, there is always pressure from the skating community for something bigger, for something better. In the coming years, spurred by the conception of the 20,000 square foot Washington-Jefferson park, there may be more added to the already large list and improvements done to those existing. Though if not, skaters can be glad it’s not the late 80’s; as Steven Chinn, a Eugene skater put it: “I can’t believe there was nowhere to skate back then… good thing I wasn’t born yet.”
Sidebar #1: A Skaters Perspective
There is always more than meets the eye when constructing a skatepark: money issues, safety concerns, location approval, bond measures and council meetings… the list could go on. What, though, after all of this, is the end result? What is worth the trouble? Why, a place to skate of course. Not for the council men or board members (unless they skate), but for the skateboarding community of Eugene and the enjoyment of the activity. A place made with these skaters in mind, and with their interests held at the forefront. If not for them, then why do it? Skaters around Eugene use these places every day, and there absence -which is probably unimaginable to most skaters- would leave a hole in a community that has came so far since the early 90’s. “It’s great that there are so many,” says Steven Chinn at the Amazon bowl, “I’m sure a lot of kids in other places have it worse off.” And he’s right: they do. Some towns, towns that have both problems with money and outdoor activities nowhere in mind, may never see a skatepark; they don’t make money for the city and they don’t create jobs for the community. But, again, that’s not the point: “I would hate just skating around on sidewalks all the time like I did back home,” says Derek Kinsil, a new skater to the area, “it’s fun when you’re a little kid, but eventually you start looking for better stuff to hit.” His feelings, ones that are undoubtedly shared by countless other skaters, get to the root of why these park are provided to the public and why there will always be a demand. To the skaters, Eugene is better of the most towns, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get better. “That’d be tight if they made this bigger someday,” Kinsil says, looking down into the Amazon Bowl, “there’s plenty of space.”
Sidebar #2: A Non-Skaters Perspective
To the boarders, the skateparks are a living beauty; their sloped concrete bowls and colorful graffiti look as natural as a grass field or rushing stream. But what, though, does everyone else see? What does the mom with three kids or the retired man of 70 see when they look out on the rounded edges and waxed rails? A skatepark’s beauty, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder. “I don’t mind [the skaters] if they stay out of the way,” says Kathy Harwich, 58 of Eugene, “I just hate how close they decided to put [the skatepark] near the path.” The park to which Harwich is referring is the Amazon bowl, and it’s true that it’s close to the path: the main running and biking outlet almost touches the park as it goes by, and there is sometimes a bottleneck where the skaters are practicing tricks near the bridge. Along with the space issues, there seems to be others: “I usually don’t walk by the skatepark at night,” says Ethan McKay, 15 of Eugene, “I know kids hang around down there.” These two people represent only a tiny fraction of the non-skating community in Eugene, and their stance towards the skateparks seem slightly less enthusiastic than the skaters who use them every day. As people who frequent parks -where skateparks are more times than not located- they see the skaters and the concrete structures as something that doesn’t need to be there, something that is only in the way. Although many people who don’t skate might have no problem with the skateparks or the skaters who use them, it’s true that they’ll most likely never hold the same kind of reverence for what purpose they serve and for why they are there in the first place.
For additional information regarding Eugene skateparks: http://www.skateeugene.org/