Locals keep pushing for expanded Hampden skatepark, despite delays

On Christmas Eve, as snowflakes begin to fall quietly on the Skatepark of Baltimore, in Hampden's Roosevelt Park, Joseph Poole shatters the silence, the sound of wood slapping concrete as he ollies up onto a ragged wooden platform, then steel on steel as his trucks grind across the steel pipe affixed to the side of the platform.

Right now, the skatepark is a makeshift affair. Five or six wooden quarter pipes, some concrete obstacles, platforms, a couple metal rails, and some parking curbs fill out the 11,000-square-foot asphalt slab placed at one corner of the park. Poole, 21, Daniel Oliver, 18, and Stephanie Murdock, 30-the park's seemingly indefatigable president and founder-and a few other skaters do their best with what they have as the snowflakes get bigger.

"Look at the other fields," Poole says, pointing to a desolate baseball field pocked by puddles. "There's not anyone else using them in the snow on Christmas Eve. But there are people skating here. And they fund that, but won't fund this."

Poole, in his senior year at Towson University, has been skating this slab of asphalt since he was 12, when the city first included the skatepark in its 2004 master plan. In that plan, it was much grander, what they call a destination park, featuring concrete bowls and a permanent street course. Instead, says Murdock, the city "laid down this slab and fenced it in."

Oliver, a tall African-American kid who has been skating at the park for three or four years and manages its website, ollies up onto a rail and slides across it. Up against the mural-filled wall beside one of the ramps, another group of kids rolls a joint. When one of them lights it, a gust of pungent smoke blows through the frigid air. "If they made it a nice place, stuff like that wouldn't happen," Poole says. "Now, it's just like this empty space, and so those guys think it's cool to come here and do that."

All of this is about to change as phase one of the city's 2004 master plan for the park comes to fruition, bringing a 3,600-square-foot cement bowl (think an empty swimming pool) to the park. "We haven't bidded it yet," says Murdock. "But we hope to see them start it in spring of 2013."

This first phase will be begin construction now that Skatepark of Baltimore Inc. and Murdock-who won a $50,000 Open Society Institute fellowship in 2010 to work on the park-have successfully raised $75,000 for a matching grant from the city, with some last minute help from local merchants* (The bowl is expected to cost $150,000.) "People travel to skate and they'll come from all over for a great park," Murdock says.

While there is still a lot of support for the Skatepark of Baltimore, the Department of Recreation and Parks has not agreed to help fund the second and third phases-estimated at $350,000-of the planned park. These next phases will include a street course with permanent concrete banks, inclines, and obstacles and a plaza beside the bowl.

"I wouldn't say the city has stopped the plan," says City Councilman Nick Mosby, whose 7th District includes the skatepark. "But from the Recs and Parks perspective, they want to see how phase one goes. I don't think it's out of the question. But is it guaranteed? No."

Mosby, a long time supporter of the skatepark, points out the "diversity of the demographics in the sport," saying it appeals to kids from "Hampden to Walbrook."

From the street level, Poole agrees. "You look at the growth of skaters in the city over the last five years," he says. "I feel like if there were a little league skate thing, there would be more people than little league baseball."

No one from Recreation and Parks was available to answer City Paper's questions before press time.

"There have been seven directors of Recs and Parks in the seven years I've been working on this," Murdock says. "I keep having to go in and explain again what we are doing. They've been helpful and I don't want to spoil our relationship, but I'm just trying to help them finish something they promised in 2004. They don't make kids raise all of the money for baseball fields or basketball courts."

 

*In an earlier version of this story, we reported that the Skatepark of Baltimore received funds from Visit Baltimore, which was inaccurate.

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