Modular skate park opens at Fairgrounds

Skateboarding in Winston-Salem is now legal—at least in one location.

The city kicked off a new initiative last Friday aimed at providing recreational opportunities for kids during the summer with the first of five events, known as Fairground Fridays. The first event featured arcade games, concessions and a BMX bike show in the education building along with a disc jockey outdoors.

City officials estimated a crowd of around 1100 that turned out for the event, despite thunderstorms earlier in the evening. Parks and Recreation director Tim Grant said he was pleased with the turnout and thinks the skatepark may eventually become a permanent fixture.

“This gives our young people a place to hang out in a safe environment,” he said.

Grant told reporters that the new programs aimed at teens have been in the works since the winter, well before a fight near the First Presbyterian Church on June 13 involving around 400 teens. Police ended up arresting two and taking four others into custody who were later released.

“This was not a reaction,” Grant emphasized. “This was something we had planned to do for five Fridays in the summer as well as the skatepark.”

Grant said the idea for the skatepark developed from a conversation he had with a child last year who enjoys skateboarding. He said this, combined with several efforts on social media to make skateboarding legal, helped the idea gain traction. Grant said the skatepark, which is portable, will likely not be in the education building forever but for now it serves its purpose.

“We think that this particular venue has the opportunity to grow and be a place where teens can hang out as well as parents,” he said. “We’re going to be exploring different locations throughout our park system and maybe looking for some partners as well.”

Kernersville’s Fourth of July Park was the first skatepark in the Triad, and Grant thinks it is important to embrace a segment of the population that is often pushed aside.

“Skateboarders I think have a bad reputation, but there are a lot of good kids skateboarding,” he said. “A lot of different nationalities skateboard, and it’s just another sport.”

Both Kernersville and Winston-Salem contain clauses in their respective codes of ordinances which restrict skateboarding from city streets.

Winston Salem’s reads as follows:

“Except as otherwise provided, it shall be unlawful for any person to coast on a sled, coaster express wagon or toy wagon or move or skate on any roller skates, skateboard or other similar device upon any public street, right-of-way, sidewalk, park or other public property located in the central business district of the city as shown on the official zoning map of the city adopted as part of the city zoning ordinance by the city council.”

Kernersville’s ordinance is similar and defines skatepark as “any facility, setting, or place the town sets aside for hazardous recreational activities.”

Friday’s event featured young children, teens and a few adults who decided to take to the ramps. This included Cody Anderson and Jamal Tony, both 22, who started skateboarding at early ages and have been part of a larger group that has pushed for a skatepark for the past year. Anderson said before the park was built, he would sometimes drive to skateparks in cities around the state including Charlotte and Burlington.

“That cost us a lot of money for gas, driving out there, you know,” he said. “But now I’m kind of happy that Winston’s actually listening to us, because we need something like this.”

Tony encountered similar problems and said most of the places he has skateboarded, including other states, have laws against the activity.

“Some of the other states are kind of like that but they actually have parks and whatnot,” he said.

Tony said it is possible to skateboard in Winston-Salem, but you should understand the risks involved. “I couldn’t skate too much downtown but when I did I normally avoided the spots where they would get pulled over and stopped,” he said.

Tony said overall he was pleased with the event and is happy his voice is being heard. “I think it’s a great idea and it’s about time that they actually started listening to the community for what our needs are. I have so much respect for my city,” he said.

Sheri Bennett, a parent of a son who skateboards and enjoys watching BMX bike shows, said she thinks the park is long overdue and that it caters to the needs of an age group which is often difficult to satisfy.

“They’re too young to drink and go to bars,” she said of the teens. “You know they hang out with their friends and then they’re too old to hang out with the smaller kids at the park so there has to be some in between.”

The event was made possible by a number of sponsors who helped out with the cost including Forsyth Tech, DTLR and JW Amusements which provided the arcade games for free.

Mamie Sutphin, Forsyth Tech’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement, said they helped out with the sponsorship costs in addition to playing a large role in promotions and marketing.

“We were approached by the city about this as a way to support a positive environment for kids on Friday nights,” she said.

Forsyth Tech has partnered with the city in the past for the Rock the Block festival downtown. Senior Community Educator Emerald Bowman said the partnership is one aspect of the event she is particularly proud of.

“What I really love about it is the education component with Forsyth Tech,” she said. “You can’t beat that you know. Have fun and solidify your future.”

Bowman said she the idea for Fairground Fridays was almost common sense.

“They’re out of school for the summer,” she said. “They need something to do. We know there are a lot of skateboarders, all ages, all races, so why not let them skate.”

The park will hold four more Fairground Fridays, which will be on July 11, 18, 25 and August 1. The park will remain open throughout the summer, and Grant encourages everyone to come out, but keep basic safety in mind.

“We ask that you sign a wavier, wear a helmet, have elbow pads and knee pads,” he said. !