Ednasha McCray calls it “a beautiful accident.”
Two of the city’s’ most active and nontraditional park facilities likely will open in the spring.
One was long planned, and the other recently emerged as a community-driven project, but both reflect a progressive approach to park expansion and development.
These new additions reflect where the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department is heading, said McCray, the department’s manager of planning and project development.
“We want to promote better lives and a better community,” McCray said. “We want to be open and creative about the way we offer services. We want to encourage people to get outside and be active.”
Construction could begin in December on the city’s long-awaited skate park. A pump track —a skills course for mountain bikers — is in the fund-raising stage but could be ready about the same time, because it’s easier to build.
Bringing the skate park to fruition has taken much longer than anyone expected. A skateboarding park has been in the parks and recreation master plan since 1998, and voters approved bond money for its construction in 2006. But the park took a back seat to several other park projects, including Gateway Gardens. The council approved issuing the bond last year.
In the meantime, the city has been building a strong advisory committee of skateboarding enthusiasts with varied backgrounds and expertise.
Although skateboarding and mountain biking are high-energy sports, they aren’t limited to the young. One member of the city advisory board has been skateboarding for 40 years, McCray said. Board members include an artist-photographer, a technician for a rock band, a business owner and a professor.
“They come from different backgrounds, but they speak the same language,” McCray said. “Which is good, because I don’t.”
Some members had visited skate parks in different states, some in different countries. One had visited 45 skate parks. BMX bikers were also part of the planning process because they would use the same course. Their input will help the city build a skate park that reflects the needs and wants of its users.
Instead of one central location, the parks department is looking at a skate network that combines larger parks with smaller-course areas. It will start with two. The largest one is planned for Latham Park, which is close to the Downtown Greenway and city center. A smaller course will be built at the Glenwood Recreation Center.
Both offer existing infrastructure, such as restrooms and parking. And both have the space, lighting and visibility to provide a safe location. They also were chosen because they are accessible by public transportation and are near other amenities, such as restaurants.
The skate park network gives skateboarders a free, safe place to enjoy their sport where they aren’t damaging private property. Older skaters can mentor the younger ones, and families can enjoy the sport together.
The demand is clearly there. The recent opening of a skate park in Apex drew some 500 people on its first day. Nearly 700 turned out in June for the opening of a skate park in Winston-Salem.
Skate parks have been around for decades, but you never may have heard of a pump track. It sounds like a weightlifting workout where you run from one station to another. But this kind of pumping is done on a bicycle, and it’s how mountain bikers navigate hilly trails. The goal on a pump track is to make it from one end to the other by using upper and lower body strength to propel the bike instead of pedaling.
The first American pump track was built in 2004 at The Fix Bike Shop in Boulder, Colo., and most are located in backyards and empty lots. But they are growing in popularity as park amenities. In North Carolina, there are pump tracks in Boone, Asheville, Durham and Raleigh.
Members of the local mountain biking community brought the idea to the city parks department. The Friends of Greensboro Parks & Recreation Foundation won a grant from outdoor supplier REI that will cover more than half the cost to build a pump track in Greensboro. To raise the remaining $20,000 needed, the foundation created a GoFundMe account to collect crowdfunding donations.
Because a pump track is made of red clay, it’s easier, faster and cheaper to build than a skate park.
The continuous dirt loop of rollers and berms helps mountain bikers build skills on a safe track before they take to the wild. There will be an adult track and a kid’s track on about an acre of land at Keeley Park in northeast Greensboro.
“Keeley is a natural park, and we felt it would blend right in,” McCray said.
As some of Greensboro’s parks age, the parks department’s staff has the chance to reinvent as well as renovate.
“It’s a good opportunity to utilize what we have and look at some things in a new way,” McCray said.
These nontraditional sports add a new and exciting component to our existing parks without having to buy more land or carve up the natural spaces that provide a quiet and peaceful experience for hikers and naturalists. The city staff was also wise to bring in the stakeholders before coming up with a plan.
There are many lessons here for Guilford County’s parks staff, which is under fire for its heavy-handed approach to developing parks and nature preserves.
There’s also plenty of traditional development in the works for city parks. The next phase of improvements at Barber Park will include a second Safety Town location that includes a railroad crossing component. More development is in store for Gateway Gardens and Bryan Park Soccer Complex. The city’s trail network will be expanded to provide more connections to parks and greenways.
This is not just good news for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s good news for economic development.
We’re fortunate indeed to have a creative and professional staff leading our city’s parks and recreation department. As the shepherds of our green infrastructure, they are a key component in enhancing our quality of life.