It's hard to say, exactly, how to define or characterize the Extreme Park in Louisville, Ky., in relation to the city's successful riverfront re-development.

Terms like crown jewel and keystone are often used to describe such properties, but there are several such properties at Louisville's riverfront. Whatever it is, it's a landmark, often drawing visitors in through its sheer visual appeal and extraordinary features.

Paving the Way

The in-ground concrete skatepark is in its third year of operation (it opened in April, 2002) and has received the attention and accolades of skateboarders across North America via their various media and informal word-of-mouth, and the parks and recreation professionals who made Louisville a drop-in point on their way to last year's NRPA conference in St. Louis.

There's good reason for the attention. Sitting at the confluence of three major interstates (Spaghetti Junction), the 40,000 square foot park brings passersby to full attention with its 24-foot full pipe.

As if that wasn't enough, the current configuration is only Phase I of two phases. The city is currently in what parks director Mike Heitz calls "Phase I 1/2".

This half-phase includes restrooms and pedestrian and bike pathways, which opened this spring, the funds for which came from a $400,000 grant received from the state.

The pathways give double-coverage. First, it is the pathways themselves that sealed the deal for the transportation grant. Second, the paths make it much easier for skaters and bikers to reach the parks with their chosen transportation mode.

Phase II, which will include replacing the wooden vert ramp with a series of primarily indoor wooden features in a 20,000 square-foot building, is expected to be funded entirely through donations. This funding may take some time as the fundraising climate steadily improves.

The first phase cost about $2.5 million, and the second phase is expected to be about $2 million.

So, more is coming down the pipe, so to speak, as the park becomes one of many high-profile cogs in the riverfront development.


Heitz says the redevelopment began with the reclamation of the waterfront at the Ohio River, driven by the vision of Mayor Jerry Abramson. The waterfront was home to mostly industrial use, and the city has been actively greening it up with Riverfront Park, which is currently 50-60 acres, with another 30-40 on the way.

Louisville's AAA baseball team moved near the riverfront from the Kentucky Fairgrounds. Condominium developments, as well as a bevy of museums -- such as the Louisville Slugger Museum -- have also arrived to more fully reclaim the area for recreation of all sorts.

Heitz says that estimated annual attendance at the Extreme Park is 250,000. Though the economic benefits have not been quantified, Heitz says three skate and bike shops have opened up nearby and local hotels have noted increased numbers.

The park is lit and open 24/7, except for times of minor repair or graffiti removal, and you're hard-pressed to find the place deserted, even between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. In fact, this two-hour period is a peak time.

Repair work has been minor so far, and graffiti minimal, says Heitz, adding that the first tag didn't happen until the park had been open for a year. The inconvenience of closing the park for graffiti removal has effectively stepped up self-policing by the skaters.

"The word is going out that when someone tags the park we have to shut down the park and remove it. We have to find the right mixture of chemicals and pressure so that we don't hurt the surface of the concrete, while removing the paint and not leaving a ghost of what was written there. The kids work together to stop taggers, because they don't want to close the park," says Heitz.

Helmets are required and pads are recommended, though the park is not staffed. To help get the message across even more clearly, new signs that are larger and more colorful are being installed. The point about helmets is also driven home as often as possible through various media, including the city's Web site and posters that are distributed to the skate and bike shops.

There's an emergency button in the park in case EMS needs to assist an injured skater. Heitz reports that there were 138 EMS runs to the park in 2002, and 75 in 2003. What's even more significant about this drop-off is that the park was only in operation for eight months in 2002.

"We think a lot of it has to do with a learning curve -- that people were learning the ins and outs of the park and tried things they shouldn't have. Plus, more people are using helmets," says Heitz.

The Extreme Park is separated into two general levels of difficulty. Heitz says planning is the most important aspect of skatepark design -- from transitions to integrity of construction.

The Extreme Park's first season saw two major events, one on opening day 2002 and one in early July that featured Tony Hawk. Each event brought in 4,000 to 10,000 attendees. Though a small fee was charged to vendors at the event (and none to attendees), Jason Cissell, public information officer for Louisville Metro Parks, says the overall benefit to the community is the goal, rather than the revenue itself.

Two large events are planned this year. Louisville expects the culmination of its already world-class events (such as the Kentucky Derby), AAA baseball, museums, Riverfront Park, more restaurants and other amenities, plus the Extreme Park to give the city even more prominence as a tourist destination.

There are no current plans to do any programming at the park, such as skills camps, but it's not out of the question. Cissell says they want to be careful about over programming the park. It's so popular now it would be difficult to find a good slot to schedule any programming.

Bryan BuchkoComment