Judith Neary of RJ’s Kids, an island nonprofit, says she was surprised to discover that there is no place quite like the Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC).
“I had no idea,” she told commissioners of the Vashon Park District at the Nov. 27 board meeting. “No idea that the vision of this park was what it is. I thought it was the dirty little skate park that I drove by every day.”
Last May, Neary and RJ’s Kids completed a state Youth Athletic Facilities grant, with the park district serving as co-applicant, to secure funds for several major facility upgrades at BARC. The organization was awarded the grant in September and will attempt to raise $75,000 for major capital improvements at the park. The public is invited to two meetings to discuss and consider the proposed changes at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, and then on Jan. 24 in the Ober Park conference room.
On the grounds where the old Burton Elementary School once stood is now a 9.5-acre recreation complex originally envisioned by island architect Jim Gerlach that includes an indoor skate park, an 8,400-square-foot outdoor skate bowl, BMX bike trails and Frisbee golf course. What started in 1998 as a volunteer-staffed skate course with plans for an extensive climbing gym was modified several times before the park district began leasing the property from the Vashon School District in 2007. But when the park district encountered financial troubles in 2013, supervision for the indoor skate park was eliminated to cut costs, and the facilities were made free to use. Dedicated volunteers and a passionate user base have not deterred vandalism or substance use on the premises, but with grants from the county and state for programming and ambitious enhancements, the next chapter of BARC is about to be written.
Last October, Neary was approached by volunteer BARC steward Marco Gaul, an islander and avid skater, for help raising funds to make park improvements. After they consulted, she got a hold of the original park master plan — written more than 10 years ago by members of a planning committee that consisted of a park district representative, community members and recreation users. After Neary read the plan, she said she realized the potential.
“When I started reading what the vision for the park was, I was like, ‘who knew?’ And I’m pretty sure if I didn’t know, the rest of Vashon doesn’t know,” said Neary. “It’s really a much bigger facility with a much bigger plan. So I got excited about it.”
In the master plan are a number of proposed renovations and developments for the site, including grind bars and quarter pipes for skaters, an outdoor performance staging area, an outdoor climbing wall, ADA-accessible walking and riding paths and an all-levels bike skills course. RJ’s Kids wants to see the plan through and will fundraise to match the $150,000 grant awarded to the organization for the construction of one feature of the skills course, known as a pump track.
A pump track is a riding course designed to propel bikers and, if paved, skateboarders and rollerbladers over a series of mounds without the need to pedal or push. A preliminary design for a concrete pump track at the park, created by West Seattle-based Grindline Skateparks, would complement the outdoor bowl that the company constructed there in 2014. Included in the design — called phase 2 of the BARC master plan — is additional skating infrastructure, an exercise station and native landscaping.
If completed, the BARC pump track, poured in place, would be the first of its kind in Washington state.
Neary said it is no secret that young people on Vashon have limited access to places where they can socialize. She said it makes the pump track project all the more urgent.
“The skate center, for a very long time, has unofficially been a community center for the youth of the island. I think universally we can all agree — any resident here on the island — that we don’t have a community center for the youth, and it is a problem.”
Neary said she has plenty of work ahead to raise the money. But facing park district commissioners at the Nov. 27 board meeting, she asked for them to approve her pursuit of additional funds for work on phase 3. That would add an ADA-accessible walking path around the perimeter of the park — accomplishing a vocal desire of several commissioners to better accommodate underserved populations on Vashon. The phase 3 design for BARC, also created by Grindline, would additionally provide for rest areas, more skating features, a parkour structure and, at long last, a basic climbing wall.
“I’m like, ‘why are we stopping here? “Let’s go all the way and not cut ourselves short, and maybe give the youth of the community something that’s more than just a dirty old building,’” said Neary.
According to executive director of the park district, Elaine Ott-Rocheford, Neary’s efforts were serendipitous.
Last January, King County announced that the park district was the recipient of a Youth and Amateur Sports grant for $36,000. The money will be used to support recreation programming at BARC as well as for the employment of part-time, trained staff to supervise park goers for the first time since 2013.
“We felt the responsible thing to do, as a public agency with a public facility that should be safe for all users … was to manage it again,” she said.
Recreation Manager Eric Wyatt has prepared a draft fee structure for BARC patronage with the expansion of programming there, though he said nothing is finalized yet.
“I want to institute a membership to give people using the park a sense of ownership,” he said, suggesting a $25 annual membership cost that would include a number of incentives.
“To do that, we want to bring back programming, especially for beginning skaters, so we’re going to get kids from all ages and go all the way up from intermediate to more advanced stuff in the bowl,” said Wyatt.
Getting more people to the park is exactly what islander Jeremy Uttech had in mind when he used his connections to find a vendor willing to donate the labor and materials for resurfacing the indoor skate park. His announcement came as a welcome surprise to the park district commissioners who, following official policy, had to approve the gift at a recent board meeting. They did so unanimously.
According to Uttech, the full resurfacing of the indoor skate facility is worth nearly $16,000. It will be completed by Skatelite, a company based in Tacoma. Uttech said he has spoken to people from Tacoma to Port Orchard who are regular users of the island skate park, as well as the dozens of young people who he said frequent it daily.
“It is really a destination park. You get lots of influxes of people coming to use it,” he said, noting that kids who don’t find more traditional sports or recreation options appealing need a place they can go.
“Vashon doesn’t have a community center. It really is a good focal point for kids, a healthy environment. Kids really need that safe space, especially skateboarders,” he said.
Ryan Spence of Skatelite said he brings his 4-year-old son to the island to use the outdoor bowl at BARC. The company’s product has been used in international competitions, but he said that supporting local skateboarders making their own scene is a cause the company feels passionate about.
“There’s just a huge potential to grow skating by supporting individuals and communities that want to give back and grow that, and we’re just really excited to help do that.”
For more information and to support RJ’s Kids, see facebook.com/rjsnonprofit/ or contact Judith Neary at firstname.lastname@example.org.