Memorial Park Skateboard Park
1605 E. Pikes Peak Ave., springsgov.com
It's a cold Thursday, well past nightfall, and about 30 people roam beneath the bright lights of Memorial Park Skateboard Park. Some are practicing simple coping stalls or throwing backside 360s, while others are carving viciously around the pool walls and rocketing themselves 10 feet into the air. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they collide, and occasionally they congregate in groups, trading trick ideas or bumming cigarettes. But the respites are brief. They are all only here for one reason — to ride.
"Since it's been open, my life has been totally different," says Shannon Davis, a local skater and assistant manager at BC Surf & Sport. "I finally get to hang out and be a local somewhere."
The cement giant in the southeastern corner of Memorial Park has provided Colorado Springs skaters a much-needed professional facility they can call their own. Until its construction, any serious Springs skater had to drive to Denver or Castle Rock to enjoy a large, well-built park. Now, the skating community here — previously split between the smaller Goose Gossage and John L. Stone parks — is flourishing.
"I stayed here all summer," says Davis, "in my neighborhood, downtown, in Memorial Park. It's been great."
Realizing the need
Davis, who helped found the Colorado Springs Skatepark Friends group, played the self-described "squeaky wheel" role in getting the park approved, funded and constructed. The project came about in 2006, when Davis and other skaters heard the city was going to re-evaluate the Memorial ground plans, which had originally included an obscure skate-park provision. The Friends began attending city meetings and drawing attention to the need for a well-built park.
"Once we got the idea out there," remembers Davis, "it was really well-supported. ... Even an old grandma stood up and said she liked it."
As with many public projects, this may have been the hardest part: getting the need recognized. Jeff Haley, landscape architect for the city's department of parks, recreation and cultural services, says the skating demographic is one that often goes unnoticed by government agencies, and yet represents a huge population.
"When you look at statistics," he says, "more kids ride skateboards than play baseball or other organized team sports, because really, when you think about it, you go buy a skateboard and just go out to the curb and start going. ... It's really accessible."
The park was designed and built in almost six months by Team Pain, the world-renowned Florida skate park design/build company. Coming in at just under $1 million, the facility is one of the most expensive park projects the city has endorsed in recent years. Almost half the funding came from the Trails, Open Space & Parks program, with the rest supplied from city grants and private donations from organizations like the Skatepark Friends.
Since it opened last December, rarely have wheels not rolled around the 40,000-square-foot park. A typical Saturday afternoon brings hundreds of riders of all ages and abilities to hone their skills on skateboards, bikes and even scooters.
"My boyfriend jokes that it's like the bar, but without the alcohol," says Davis. "It has built a new level of culture and interaction."
The lights, the masses
The outrageous popularity of the park — voted best in the state by Westword readers last spring — is, oddly, its biggest drawback. Devin, who has been skating in the Springs for 24 years and asked not to have his last name printed, says that much of the time, Memorial is like a "day care center." He's glad school is back in session and that the weather is getting colder.
"In the summer," he says, "it's like downtown Denver traffic here."
In July, after the city installed lights as a final touch, the park became a mecca for high-school students, late-night "lurkers" and others. The lights gave serious skaters almost four more hours, but the constant influx of people made it difficult to ride aggressively.
"When they first turned the lights on, it was crazy," says Davis. "People lost their minds. It was summer, it was hot, there were some scuffles, and we were like, 'OK! We've got to squash this.'"
And squash it they did. Haley says a surprising aspect of the park has been the dedication of its users to a non-threatening environment. "If anything does start to happen out there," he says, "they'll take it upon themselves to say, 'Look, get out of here. You're going to ruin this for us.'"
This, naturally, is where sharing a single jewel gets tricky. Brett, another skater who didn't give his last name, says when some people get too protective — when they "think they own the place" — the vibe gets more exclusive than it needs to be. But Davis chalks up some of the park's inarguable success to the idea that "the people that are using it the most have taken ownership of it."
If Devin's staked any claim, it was a symbolic one: He decided to move across town once the park was built so that he'd be closer to it. On this 40-degree night, with serious skaters freed from the crowds of the summertime, he's able to look at the big picture.
"There is definitely a sense of pride, maybe to a fault," he offers. "But for what it is, it's ridiculous to complain."