All decked out and nowhere to go
On nice days after school, Foster Braden is skateboarding on the ramp behind his house. Santhi Turner is skateboarding on the street in his neighborhood. Neither like the town’s skateboard park at the Carver Center.
“The surface is bad,” Foster said last week in between bouts on the board in his yard near downtown Black Mountain. “It doesn’t have many ramps. If it gets crowded, it’s very hard to skate. And it’s hard to get there.”
Foster’s dad, Jon Braden, is one of a handful of skater parents who would like to see the town create a bigger – or better – skate park, one they say could enhance Black Mountain’s reputation as a tourist destination. A significant, challenging skate park in town would join the constellation of advanced concrete parks that have made Waynesville, Hendersonville, Cherokee and Asheville magnets for skateboarders and BMX bike riders from all over Western North Carolina and east Tennessee, they maintain.
Parental concern led to the park at the Carver Center in 2007. Through bake sales and car washes, Black Mountain parents Teresa Bryant and Missy Corrales raised some $12,000 in just a few months. The money was merged with the $13,000 the town put in to build the $25,000 park on town-donated land, said Casey Conner, town recreation and parks director.
“One of the big challenges we had was finding something that both skaters and bikers could use,” he said. “That was one reason we settled on concrete material, because of its durability. It was a win for us because with concrete there is less maintenance involved.”
Expanding the park at the Carver Center is in the recreation and park department’s plans, Conner said, but nothing has been worked up, nor has a timetable been set for expansion. There are a lot of new features now that didn’t exist when the town skate park was built, he said, such as undulating “pump” tracks that let skates ride the ups and downs of ribbons of steel.
Ridgecrest resident Rob Sebrell owns PUSH Skate Shop in Asheville. Every week visitors come into his store asking for places to skate. He refers them to parks in Asheville and other nearby cities. But he doesn’t refer them to Carver Center.
“It’s a good beginners’ park,” Sebrell said. “But the older skaters go elsewhere.”
The Carver Center is “almost unusable. The obstacles are super small,” said Tom Turner, an Owen High teacher and 11-year-old Santhi’s dad. “Santhi would rather skate on the asphalt in front of our house.”
Which isn’t good either, considering that Fourth Street, where the family lives, is a high-volume shortcut for many motorists. Santhi, who has been skating three years, often has to pull up to let cars go by. His dad wishes there were some place nearby that his son could skate, some place that was challenging.
“Asheville, Waynesville – they all have their charms,” Turner said. “But Santhi is totally reliant on his parents to drive him there. He can’t skate as much as he wants to. It would be nice to drive five minutes instead of 30 minutes. Or if they could go by themselves.”
A couple of months ago, Jon Braden talked to mayor Mike Sobol about building a new park. “He told me to go figure something out, get a team together and propose it to the town,” Braden said.
“The more ideas we have, the better it is for the board (of aldermen),” Sobol said last Friday. Sobol said the land that slopes behind the Carver Center would be a natural place to build a new skatepark (or add to the existing one). “Take advantage of the natural lay of the land,” he said, citing the Food Lion Skatepark beside Interstate 240 in Asheville as one that uses the descending elevation to its (and skaters’) advantage.
“We spent a lot of money on a couple of units (at Carver Center) that are not very much,” Sobol said. The town might be willing to pay a portion of a replacement, he indicated.
Soon after he talked to the mayor, Braden messed up his knee skateboarding with his son. They were riding together in the street when a car came on them suddenly. The elder Braden wrenched his knee getting out of the way (Foster was unhurt).
The traffic in town is one reason skaters like his son need a better place to ride, Braden said.
“I don’t feel comfortable letting my son ride around town with so much traffic,” he said. “A lot of parents, we drive all over to these places, to Cherokee and Waynesville. We buy lunch and do things there. (A better park) could be a draw for Black Mountain, a town that just has rocking chairs.”
Asheville is set to get another draw. RAD Skatepark, an indoor 13,000-square-foot facility in Asheville’s River Art District, is scheduled to open in December. Owner Alex Robertson gets a phone call day asking him how he’s progressing, he said. With 800 followers on Facebook, the park garners a few hundred “likes” whenever Robertson updates users of Instagram.
“Growing up as a skateboarder, during winter it was nothing for me and my buddies to drive two hours to skate at an indoor park,” he said.
Braden envisions for Black Mountain the kind of landscaped parks that Waynesville and Cherokee have, with trees and grass and benches. If it tied into the town’s greenway, kids could skate there and be off the streets. Sebrell believes a better skate park in Black Mountain would be a hub for the skater community, one that in general thrives on cooperation, not competition.
“The Foundation” in Asheville’s River Arts District is that kind of place, Sebrell said. Created on the foundation of an old warehouse, The Foundation Spot (as the concrete pad is formally known) has launched thousands of street skaters toward new heights since it was founded about eight years ago. With the permission of its owner – the father of a skater and graffiti artist – skaters who agreed to take care of the place dragged in obstacles (a file cabinet was among the first) and began to build ramps and chutes.
The new owners let them continue skating if they got an insurance policy (they did). And now they can raise money as a nonprofit organization under the umbrella of Arts2People, a community arts organization in Asheville. Any given weekend, The Foundation is full of skaters skating for free, cheering each other on, banging boards on the concrete when someone lands, even attempts, something daring. The older skaters are especially supportive of the younger skaters.
Black Mountain could have something like that, even if it were smaller, Sebrell and Jon Braden believe.
“Black Mountain is due,” Braden said, “especially with our growth. It’s all young families and people with kids. Skateboarding really builds community.”