Fearless Flyers Go Vertical

Redeveloping the northwest quadrant of Safety Harbor City Park in Pinellas County, Fla., to meet the needs of thrill-seeking skateboarders was no easy project.

During the past four decades, skateboarders have been shocking crowds with extreme tricks that most people would not dream of doing.

Today, kids in the county--and across the country--want to show off extreme acrobatic stunts, ollies, rail slides, truck grinders and more. The challenge for the city and its design partners was to create a safe place where skaters of all levels could grow and perform.

“Why can’t we find a safe spot for skaters to ride?” Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield wondered. “When I saw that Gulfport converted basketball courts into a skate park and saw Dunedin’s new skate park, I felt that was the way to go.”

In 2003, the 6,000-square-foot skate park project received a major boost from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program, which provided an $180,000 grant to build the skate park--a 50-percent match to go toward construction costs.

“I’m delighted we got the money,” said former Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino. “It’s exciting; the kids are waiting for it.”

Designing For The Next Generation

Wade Trim--a national civil engineering, planning and landscape-architecture firm--worked with the city’s parks and engineering departments to prepare a three-phase master plan that included a safe, kid-friendly skate park, a boundless playground, a splash pad and a basketball court. The master plan paved the way for design, permitting and construction of the first two phases, beginning in 2005.

To help design a true community skate park, the city commission appointed a Skate Park Teen Task Force of more than 20 skateboarders. With an approved budget, the task force--led by the city’s Leisure Services Director Andrea Norwood--met weekly, sketched out a design, and made a model for presentation to the commission for approval. The group even developed park rules, policies and procedures.

The finished skate-park features provided by True Ride include 10 pieces of equipment designed for a range of skill levels:

• Half-pipe

• Command-center start box

• Wedge/pyramid

• Mini-pipe

• Three-quarter pipe.

Site-work preparation and construction were performed by R.A.M. Excavating Inc.

Other skate-park features include:

• A lighted picnic shelter

• A chilled water fountain

• Bike racks

• A pay phone

• Site lighting.

Minimizing Hazards

In 2007, the skate park opening was dedicated in the memory of Ian Tilmann, a boy who suffered a traumatic brain injury after being thrown from his skateboard while not wearing a safety helmet.

As designers, we understand that we cannot eliminate all danger at the skate park. Instead, we minimize hazards that skaters cannot anticipate.

Most people don’t realize that poor construction is the top cause of unexpected accidents at a skate park. Bumpy transitions throw skaters off balance. Uneven or gapped seams cause falls. Rough surfaces make it hard to skate, and create unpredictable momentum changes. Overly slippery conditions are dangerous as well.

To limit unanticipated falls due to collisions, the park is divided into separate areas. While this slows the flow of the park slightly, it ensures that inexperienced skaters don’t come into contact with experienced ones. The park design avoids visual obstructions so that skaters can see each other crossing between areas. Lastly, a 10-foot grass area was placed around the park, giving skaters plenty of room to take soft falls before hitting the perimeter fence.

Protecting Noggins

Since the gates opened, the Ian Tilmann Skate Park has integrated the free-helmet program. The park is located directly across from the Safety Harbor Community Center, which not only allows staff to keep an eye on the park’s visitors, but also is a great place for skaters to pick up free loaner helmets or register to receive a free personal helmet from The Ian Tilmann Foundation Inc. Personal helmets are made available for pickup within a few business days.

The park’s policy is that all skaters must wear a helmet with a chinstrap. Skate-park visitors are required to register at the community center and sign a consent form and release agreement. An adult must accompany anyone under the age of 8.

The skate park was the first park of its type for the city, and it was the first park to really put safety first. Within the initial year of operation, the free-helmet program distributed more than 450 helmets. The successful program laid a foundation for expansion to other public and private skate parks around the state and beyond.

Originally installed in 2005, the skate park has stood the test of time and continues to be a popular feature of this city park. The one-of-a-kind skate park has “greatly benefited the community,” according to Norwood. “We’ve hosted approximately 500 registered participants, ranging in age from 4 to 40 since the opening. It’s a safe place where kids can let loose, and we’re proud to have it in Safety Harbor.”

Sharon Heal Eichler, RLA, ASLA, LEED AP, is a Senior Landscape Architect with Wade Trim, Inc.--a leading engineering, landscape-architecture and planning firm with 19 offices in eight states. She can be reached at (813) 882-8366 or via e-mail at seichler@wadetrim.com.