Smooth Skating

By Brenda Iraola and Jeff Newhouse

In 2009, a group of local high school-aged skateboarding enthusiasts—frustrated by a lack of nearby skateboarding opportunities—lobbied their state delegate for funding to build a skatepark. House Appropriations Bill 724 provided the initial funding, which the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), Prince George’s County, gladly matched. A celebratory-announcement meeting was held that summer to start the design process. M-NCPPC determined that Cosca Park would be a good site for the skatepark. The 690-acre site is located in Clinton, Md., 10 miles southeast of the nation’s capital.

A Suitable Site
Cosca Park had the natural features of hills, steep slopes, and forested areas. The project manager and team members analyzed the site for the development potential of the skatepark. Landscape architects are skilled at conducting site assessments for development opportunities and constraints. Many factors, such as views, existing soil, mature trees, possible erosion, parking availability, accessible access, and proximity to other park facilities, are reviewed. As a project manager, the goal is to determine the costs associated with development and how to maintain the approved budget, identify the programming space, and meet the scope of work requested. Strategic planning involved meeting with the stakeholders, the park maintenance staff, and park operational staff. After several meetings with design and operational staff to explore the heavily wooded regional park, it was apparent that all of the flat, open spaces were already developed with recreational features and infrastructure. Ultimately, the location available for the skatepark was a one-acre, eroded hillside with an under-used family picnic area. Redevelopment for this site was a challenge, and a creative solution had to be determined for an effective use of the hillside location. Accessibility issues had to be resolved. The goal was to transform the existing hillside slopes into a special skatepark feature, thereby adding interest to the design elements.

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Fluid Design Changes
The M-NCPPC landscape-architect project manager, park staff, and skatepark stakeholders collaborated to develop an initial, creative, conceptual site plan. An important design objective determined how large a skatepark the Capital Improvement Program budget could support. The M-NCPPC project manager chose to partner with a design-build firm, the American Ramp Company (ARC). ARC provided a wide range of services and offered to collaborate with the stakeholders and community skateboard activists. One of the strategies used to obtain ideas for the design was to facilitate multiple hands-on visioning sessions with the stakeholders and community skateboard participants. These sessions used progressive IT, computer-based technology to produce “live” design changes from the feedback. The users felt included in the actual design of the skatepark. The stakeholders were interested in a skatepark that was suitable for both beginner and intermediate skaters, and that could provide a few skilled features to entice the advanced user to enjoy the park.

Using Typography To Their Advantage
A 12,000-square-foot, cast-in-place concrete skatepark was strategically designed to fit within the site conditions. Using the hillside slopes as part of the actual design elements was a beneficial site-grading strategy for the project. Mass grading and traditional retaining walls were avoided, which reduced proposed construction costs. The design had a balanced mix of street-skating elements and vertical elements. Intermediate and advanced skaters, both young and old, can enjoy the upper area with its boomerang quarter pipe, and can transition to the lower skatepark plaza area via multiple large stairways. Novice skaters can use smaller stair sets or the winding flow course to get to the plaza, which features a pyramid, a radial bank, a pump bump, multiple ledges, and rails. The vert wall is the dominant visual draw, topping out at a thrilling height of 15 feet. Skaters of all skill levels can use the vert wall by easily adjusting their approach to moderate their speed and ascension. Integrally colored, concrete pavement accents, placed throughout the installation, complement the natural colors of the surrounding landscape, including sweeping colors of terra cotta, tan, and grey.

Due to the site’s hillside conditions, stormwater management was an issue during the design phase. Maryland’s progressive stormwater-management laws were fully adhered to by directing all water runoff from the skatepark’s impervious pavement to interior planting beds and perimeter bio-retention areas. The interior beds are landscaped with drought-tolerant trees and ornamental grasses. A variety of grasses were used, including Elijah Blue Fescue, Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass, Big Blue Lilyturf, Variegated Lilyturf, White Cloud Muhly, and Dallas Blues Switch Grass. The bio-retention areas were landscaped with native species only, including Inkberry, Arrowwood, Bayberry, Woolgrass, Blue Flag Iris, and Joe Pye Weed.

Artistic Expression
Another maintenance concern was “tagging” and graffiti art within park projects. A creative design solution was to actually incorporate graffiti into the skatepark. The landscape-architect project manager worked with the skateboarding community to produce large, custom art panels crafted by the skateboard users. The skateboarders used social media to promote and connect their efforts for design outreach and comment. The panels were placed within the planting beds to maximize their presence. This creative design outlet has minimized the amount of unauthorized tagging and spray-painting elsewhere on site, reducing maintenance needs.

The original leader of the stakeholders has remained involved, organizing skate classes, competitions, and art sessions. The art panels are modified quarterly by the skateboard community. Internationally recognized graffiti artists have also contributed to these efforts.

The art-program collaboration has been so popular with staff and patrons that four more panels will be added to the perimeter of the park. The park has been so well received that additional amenities, such as site furniture, shade structures, and a drinking fountain, also will be installed.

The project has been a great success, as well as an enhancement to the park property. It’s living proof of what can happen when a community puts heads together and asks for a park amenity for an underserved population.

Brenda J. Iraola, ASLA, PLA, CPSI, COAA, NRPA, MRPA, is a Landscape Architecture Supervisor for the Park Planning & Development Division. Reach her at brenda.iraola@pgparks.com.

Jeff Newhouse, RLA, is a Landscape Architect for the Park Planning & Development Division of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Prince George¹s County Department of Parks and Recreation. Reach him at Jeff.Newhouse@pgparks.com.