You want a skatepark? Then get your ass out there and build yourself one. That is the philosophy that fuels a group of local skateboarders looking to build a park below the Highway 97/Division Street underpass.
The fact that there is a faction of Bend's skateboard community out to create a new facility is hardly news - the issue of skate parks in Central Oregon has been a hot button topic for more than a year. First it was the vandalism and petty crime going down at the skate park at Ponderosa Park, then it was the debacle surrounding the skate facility at Awbrey Butte's Quail park, which ultimately led to the beginner's park being removed. But it's when you hear Jason Chinchen of the Division Street Skatepark Project discuss his goals that the polyurethane wheels of intrigue start to spin.
Chinchen has been riding a skateboard since 1984 and in short, his plan for the Division Street project, is to create a skate park for the people and by the people. This is how he describes, albeit perhaps less Lincoln-esque, his plans for creating a premier-level skateboard park. It's not a city project or a Parks and Rec project, it's a skater project, Chinchen says while leaning against one of the many boulders that currently occupy the patch of land currently under the control of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
"People don't really realize that we're going to build it. You're going to build it. The guys reading this article are going to build it," Chinchen says as we stroll through the currently vacant lot that he wants to transform into 15,000 square feet of skateboarder paradise.
He had originally hoped to break ground before this winter, but a solid timeline for the project has yet to materialize. What they do know is that they want the park to include features like a bowl, ramps and other high-end features commonly seen at the nation's finest parks.
Now it's just gravel and Boulders, soon it could be Jason Chinchen's dream skate park.Chinchen, with his shaved head, occasional tattoo, shorts and T-shirt looks exactly how one would expect a veteran skater would look. He's gnawing on a handful of sunflower seeds as we arrive under the Bend Parkway, vehicles thundering above us, and alternating his time between dishing out statistics about the project and corralling his three children. Chinchen seems engulfed in a do-it-yourself ethos that he sees as the true fuel of the project, but also soberly aware of his role in the community.
"As much as I want to do this for myself as a skateboarder, it's as much for the community as it is for me, so I want to see people get involved," he says.
The Division Street Project arrives at a time when the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District recently poured about $12,000 into repairs at Ponderosa skate park and is also looking to replacing the park altogether. Ponderosa, often referred to as "Pondy" by local skaters was the site of such an elevated level of petty crime that the district recently considered shutting it down. Also, the beginner's skate park at Quail Park was removed in the wake of a flood of complaints from neighbors.
Travis Yamada serves as Treasurer of the Division Street project, but has also been working with Parks and Rec over the years to help with the skate park issue. Yamada, like Chinchen, never has anything negative to say about Parks and Rec, and is vehemently against any sort of us-against-them attitude being perceived by the public.
"It's easy to pick on Parks and Rec and put the blame on them, but I don't think that's the skateboarder's way," says Yamada, a longtime skateboarder who actually moved to Bend to train as a professional snowboarder.
"Growing up as a skateboarder, I didn't feel entitled to a public skate park. We were forced to borrow, beg and steal and do whatever we have to do to just make ramps," he continues.
Yamada goes on to say that the Division Street Project isn't against the idea of taking funding from Parks and Rec or engaging in some other type of collaboration, should the opportunity arise.
Ed Moore, director of park services, says that although he hasn't been approached by the Division Street group, that the district would keep an open door should they ever come looking for help, although any action would require approval from the district's board. Moore also relates a story of a similar skate park project in Boise, where he served as superintendent for the park district for 12 years. Also built under an overpass, the Boise project was initiated by a county commissioner and was eventually rolled into Parks and Rec oversight. Moore said the park was heavily used and saw few problems.
"If [the Division Street Project] is anything like the one in Boise, I would guess it could be really successful," Moore speculates.
Chinchen is thorough in his outline of what exactly it's going to take to make his skate park a reality and a lot of the items on the list boil down to materials and manpower that he hopes will be donated. But even in these early stages, there has been some high-profile skill thrown their way, most notably in the form of Bob Kotas, who formerly worked with Dreamland Skateparks, the company behind many of the Northwest's premier facilities. Kotas now works locally as a contractor and is set to head up the design and construction of the park. But Chinchen says they're still looking for volunteers with excavation equipment and experience to get the ball rolling, and also for donations of construction materials like concrete. They're also looking for someone with land development experience - someone who will be able to handle the permitting process with ODOT.
ODOT District Manager Pat Creedican said he occasionally drives by the proposed location and always thought that it might be suitable for something like a skate park, Creedican is endlessly complimentary about the energy and organizational ability of the Division Street guys, but says the project is hardly set in stone at this point. He says that the group must first acquire insurance and then begin work on writing a lease, which would probably require finished plans for the project.
"There's so many things that have to fall into place. They still have to go through the lease process. There's still a lot of hurdles to cross and then they'd move forward," Creedican says, "It's not like it's a no-deal, but it's hardly a done deal."
Creedican didn't know how much ODOT would charge the group to lease the land, but said that the fact that the group is a volunteer and community driven project should play into their favor during the process.
"They're can-do folks, I'll tell you that much," he says of Chinchen and company.
Chinchen says the total estimated cost of the project is somewhere around a half a million dollars (if they were to contract out the entire job) but both he and Yamada think the park can be built for less than $200,000, if they play their cards right and generate the sort of grassroots movement they're aiming for.
"We want the skateboarders to have a sense of ownership on this thing. I want the little kids there picking weeds and getting their hands dirty," Yamada says.
Yamada says this "sense of ownership" on behalf of local skaters might be a built-in solution to the vandalism and problematic behavior (underage drinking and smoking, fighting) that flared up at Ponderosa last year. Chinchen adds that creating a quality park will also alleviate those problems because older, more skilled riders will come to the park, which he says is rarely the case at Ponderosa, and pass down "skating etiquette" to younger riders.
"This is something that we need - not just me and my family," Chinchen says, and then points at a car dealership across the street. "Even if this guy across the street doesn't know he needs a skate park here, he does."
Build it like Burnside
Burnside is synonymous with the term "skate park." Or, at least it should be. Many of the younger generation are unaware of its history and what makes it so unique - the fact that it was built for skaters not by the city, but by skaters themselves. The park is also an inspiration to organizers of the Division Street Skatepark Project - perhaps because both share the "under the bridge" location.
In 1990, a group of disgruntled Portland skaters decided to take matters into their own hands and create a skate park without authorization in an abandoned parking lot known as "Hobo Alley." The then twenty somethings built the park bit by bit each night after work. The approximately 9,000 square foot area situated below one of the longest and busiest streets in Portland was filled with broken-down cars, trash, used hypodermic needles, blood, hair and feces and was frequented by drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless when they started. The group financed the initial builds completely out of pocket and then began to reach out to area businesses for financial support. In June of 1992, the city passed a resolution in favor of the skate park, allowing it to remain.
Burnside has become one of the most recognized skate parks in the world, has been featured in Tony Hawk Pro Skater video games, skated by the who's-who of the skate world and is known for its overall creative and challenging layout. The entire park was designed by skateboarders, built by skateboarders and is run and policed by skateboarders. The original builders have gone on to design other skate parks throughout the world, under the name Dreamland Skateparks. Former Dreamland employee Bob Kotas is now living in Bend and heading up the design element of the Division Street Project. For a taste of Dreamland's current and past projects, check out dreamlandskateparks.com - Shelby Harwood