Progress on skate park project curbed

Unanticipated expenses, pandemic have stalled long-awaited pump track project.

Judith Neary of island nonprofit RJ’s Kids is pursuing a new grant opportunity to get the renovation of the skate park at the Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC) rolling once more.

Last week, Elaine Ott-Rocheford, executive director of the Vashon Park District, said at the board’s regular meeting that the pump track project has come to a “screeching halt” due to a number of setbacks. That’s namely because of necessary design changes — the pump track was originally situated too close to a tree line and the scale was expanded after community input — and unanticipated permitting and technical expenses.

Then there’s the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic fallout has left some private donors unable to follow through with commitments made last year to a campaign to raise grant matching funds for building the pump track. Meanwhile, the pandemic has led to delays of all kinds virtually everywhere.

Pump tracks are designed to propel bikers and, if paved, skateboarders and roller bladers over a series of mounds, eliminating the need for riders to pedal or push. The concrete pump track at BARC would be the first of its kind in Washington state, fulfilling a promise of Phase 2 of the BARC master plan that also includes the addition of skating infrastructure, an exercise station and native landscaping.

Several of the design and financial hurdles now stalling the pump track project relate to the ultimate vision of the whole park — think ADA accessibility, new rest areas, more skating features, a parkour structure and basic climbing wall. But Washington’s Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) — which administers the Youth Athletic Facilities grant program, awarding $75,000 to RJ’s Kids in 2018 — see the pump track as only a third of the total project, Ott-Rocheford explained. So they’ll only pay for a third of the total costs associated with building it, leaving Rj’s Kids on the hook for some major budget items such as mandated geographical surveys and, one of Neary’s biggest headache’s, permitting.

To get the project back on track and move BARC toward Phase 3, Neary wants to apply for a new, Large Youth Athletic Facility grant through RCO. She is seeking an award of $236,300. The match requirement for the grant has been reduced to 25% due to the pandemic — for Rj’s Kids, that’s about $70,000 — and she believes raising the needed funds is an attainable goal. Ott-Rocheford also noted that Neary is working to close the gap herself, pursuing donors to help Rj’s Kids come closer to crossing the finish line.

At the meeting, Neary asked the board to allow her to proceed with the grant application, saying that she is hopeful for what is ahead, not that there haven’t been bumps along the way.

“Big scheme of things and in hindsight, this has been a crazy process that we’ve been going through now for three years,” she said.

Should Rj’s Kids receive this latest grant award, Neary said, the combined grant money to develop the park would mean Vashon gets “a killer skate park in the end,” Neary said, even if she has to pare down some of the features on her wish list such as a planned walking path and exercise station. But she acknowledged the nonprofit would likely need to make another private donation push in the community to ultimately get the job done.

BARC is an important place to many. A variety of user groups share the versatile park, though the district has had to contend with acts of vandalism and substance use at BARC for some time and has weighed approaches to discourage such behavior. In the past, there has also been fervent debate over competing uses of the property. Disc golf players came out in force two years ago when a group approached the board with a proposal to build a fenced-in dog park in a spot that interfered with their playing course.

But there is no doubting the unique level of passion for BARC in the community and beyond.

RCO received testimonials of support for Rj’s Kids’ pump track and BARC expansion project earlier this month from islanders such as Jenny Wegely, President of the Vashon Schools Foundation, who wrote that BARC “fosters a community center atmosphere which the island is in desperate need of.”

“Children who don’t find more traditional sports options appealing, need a place they can go. The park helps to keep our children active and healthy in a safe, secure environment,” she said.

Mountain bike enthusiasts wrote about the many generations of families who use the skate bowl and trails at the park. Islander Brenna Larson said BARC has been a part of her young daughters’ lives for years, where they learned to ride bikes without training wheels and celebrate birthdays with their peers.

“Every inch of the BARC is more than a bike track, or skate ramps, or a bowl. It becomes a million different things depending on the imagination of the child experiencing it,” she said. “It’s a safe space to play with friends, big and small. It’s a stage to show off all the hard work you’ve put in perfecting your skills.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine has also submitted a letter of support for BARC, urging RCO officials to seriously consider the merit of the project in considering their other funding requests. Constantine wrote that the island lacks a facility or multi-use park “where anyone can drop in and participate in a variety of physical activities, without the costs associated with organized club sports,” saying the skate park will help fill that recreational activity gap.

That’s been Neary’s point all along.

“If you look at what this ultimately can bring to not only the community of Vashon but just to Vashon parks in general, this is, in skateboard language, epic,” she told the board.