ERWIN — Early last week, a group of teens took advantage of the recent milder weather to take in a little skateboarding before the winter season made its official arrival.
But those in the group agree that skateboarding in Erwin is easier said than done. Ordinances are in place to prevent skateboarders on downtown sidewalks. Private parking lots are obviously off-limits. The threat of being struck by a vehicle exists while skating in Erwin’s downtown streets.
The teens, who gathered to skate on a concrete slab along Nolichucky Avenue where the Co-Op building was once located, said they have waited for years for a local venue in which they could skateboard without worry.
“Since I was in elementary school riding out in Unicoi, I’ve been wanting a skate park,” skater Aaron Wright said.
But it now appears the long wait may soon come to an end. On Nov. 26, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a contract with Joplin, Mo.-based American Ramp Co. to design and construct a skate park along Nolichucky Avenue.
The skate plaza project, which is to include a playground, was recommended by representatives with the Nashville-based planning firm Kimley-Horn and Associates as it worked to complete the town’s downtown revitalization master plan. The plan’s first phase was completed in September, and construction on the second phase is set to begin early next year.
The town previously received a $127,000 grant from the state to complete the skate park project. This grant requires a match from the town in the same amount, and the grant contract with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation was approved in April. The town of Erwin has approved spending up to $230,000 on the project, now being referred to as Railyard Park.
In December 2011, the town board approved the purchase of two parcels of property along Nolichucky Avenue for the skate park project.
Brandon Robinson, senior skate park specialist for American Ramp Co., said since it was started around 15 years ago, ARC has grown into the largest skate park company in the world, having constructed parks in at least 32 countries and more than 2,000 parks in its history. Robinson said the company has constructed parks in areas as large as Brooklyn, N.Y., and towns with populations of less than 1,000 people.
Local skateboarder Ethan Harris said Unicoi County is home to a base of skateboard, BMX bicycle, scooter and roller blade enthusiasts. Because of this, and the continually growing popularity of skateboarding, the Erwin park should prove to be successful, Robinson said.
“Skateboarding is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation,” Robinson said. “The most recent numbers I’ve seen show there’s more skateboarders in the U.S. than there are baseball players. With that, it’s a fairly common thing for even small towns to have something for skaters to enjoy.”
“Good skate parks give kids a chance to just achieve their dreams,” local skateboarder Daniel Pabst said. “They give them a chance to be like the pros. It gives them a shot. It gives them something to do, something to have fun with.”
And, Robinson said, a good skatepark can be constructed with the money available for the project.
“You’re going to have a very nice park,” Robinson said. “It has the potential of being a regional park. It can draw people from the surrounding area. It’s going to be well-built, well-designed, and that’s what people are looking for. And if it’s good enough, skaters will come in from a ways out to be able to skate that.”
ARC has already completed a preliminary design of the park based off the topography of the Nolichucky Avenue property. Last week, ARC owner Nathan Bemo was in Erwin to display this preliminary design and gather input on features skaters would like to see incorporated into the park.
Bemo said ARC will continue to gather input from skaters for another couple of weeks, and a final design of Railyard Park will be completed within a month.
“Once the design is done, if it gets approved right away, then the clock will start ticking right away,” Bemo said, “and then, three to four months after that, it will be completed.”
Robinson said the project could be constructed and ready for use by the summer, which falls in line with the town of Erwin’s completion goal.
Feedback forms have been distributed to Unicoi County High School students so they can provide the ARC with features they would like to see included. The park’s preliminary design has also been posted to the ARC’s Facebook page in a post at http://on.fb.me/JTzCod, and Bemo said representatives with his company are looking for feedback there.
“It’s going to have a nice playground area and it’s going to be a nice skate park, so it’s definitely going to be a great setup,” he said.
Whatever the final design, those out to skateboard last week all said they are greatly anticipating completion of the park, not only for themselves but also for Unicoi County’s next generation of skateboarders.
“It’s really good for the community,” Harris said. “Anything that does anything for the kids in this town is good because they have nothing to do.”