Last year, the Camden County Parks Department described plans to construct a community skatepark. On Tuesday, they debuted early designs for the project.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 9, 2023
In April 2022, the Camden County government announced a preliminary commitment to constructing a public skatepark as a component of its $100-million, “Parks Alive 2025” reinvestment in the county parks system.
On Tuesday, officials took additional steps towards realizing that project, with a public information session in which they presented renderings of what the park could look like, and solicited feedback on those early designs from the skate community.
Camden County Parks Director Maggie McCann Johns described a roughly 6,000-square-foot, streetscape-style skatepark that would welcome skaters of all ages and ability levels, with an aim towards supporting younger and first-time users.
“We wanted a skatepark for everyone,” McCann Johns said. “You want to bring your little cousin to teach them how to skate, you’re going to come here to get down to basics; but also [to experience] something that’s interesting for someone who’s been skating for 30 years.”
The layout of the park could include a pump track and quarter-pipes in addition to elements common to an urban skating environment — ledges, handrails, and similar objects — plus seating areas and shade canopies.
Fencing, lighting, and vegetation are all contemplated within the design. The rendering presented Tuesday showcases a central greenspace with native plant life, which McCann Johns said was included to help manage stormwater runoff onsite and mitigate potential permitting obligations from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
No site has formally been chosen in which to locate the park; however, a likely early option lies within Cooper River Park, along North Park Drive in Cherry Hill, near where the county ice skating rink is erected seasonally.
Camden County Commissioner Jeff Nash, liaison to the parks department, said that despite county support, the project will also need “a municipal partner” from whichever community will house it.
“On a project like this, which is enormously expensive, the county is willing to fund the project,” Nash said. “We have to find a location and partners. We have to make sure the design is what the community would like to see in the park.
“The first step in building this park is to bring it out to the community, the people who are experts, and get feedback on the concept that’s presented here,” he said. “This is a starting place, not a finishing place. The community tells us what they would like to see.”
The groundwork for the skatepark was laid long ago, Nash said, with prompting from Cherry Hill resident Marla Rosenthal, who first broached the subject with leaders in her community when her son was an adolescent.
“He went into the mayor’s office, and said, ‘We don’t have a skate park,’” Rosenthal said. “He’s been asking for one ever since, and making me be a nuisance of myself. This is like a dream come true.
“People need a place to skate together,” she said. “Cherry Hill has a proud history in skateboarding; we need to bring it back and continue that history.
The county also has been in talks with Alec Beck, Manager of Public Education at Tony Hawk’s The Skatepark Project, who joined Tuesday’s meeting remotely from Los Angeles.
The Camden County project “[has] been on our radar for quite some time,” Beck said. “We’re delighted to see it get to this stage.
“It’s going to be a great-sized park for what it is,” he said. “There are some rad little hits in there.”
Beck urged supporters to continue making their voices heard as the project continues to work its way through design to implementation. He also encouraged advocates to consider not only its most intensive potential users, but also to “think back to what you would have wanted as a kid, and strike that balance.
“Try to think accessibility, not just for the hardcore,” Beck said.
“And think adaptively, if you can, for wheelchair riders; helping people who wouldn’t otherwise think a skatepark is for them.”
At an estimated $65 to $70 per square foot, Beck projected that the project could cost as much as $550,000, with McCann Johns suggesting that it might be north of that.
If it’s constructed well, however, he said it’s likely to last without needing much in the way of repairs.
“This is going to be one of the most efficient capital projects,” Beck said. “You build it once, you build it right, you’re not going to get too many problems.”
Audubon resident Ronnie Gordon, who grew up skating on the streets of Haddon Township, and has taught skateboarding camps in Pennsylvania and California, said he’d always wanted to see a skate park rise on Cooper River, with Philadelphia in view.
Gordon, whose input was considered in shaping the original design, said a streetscape park with flat ground and lots of ledges would offer skaters the feeling of skating at bygone locations in Philadelphia, where he honed his skills as a youngster.
“The big thing that’s been missing in this area is something that’s street-oriented,” he said. “The ground’s got to be flat. The ledges have to replicate a decent bench. The handrail pitch has to be like skating the streets of City Hall.”
Pennsauken Commiteeman Marco DiBattista, a lifelong skater who helped champion the recently completed redesign of the Pennsauken skatepark, said he was encouraged by the turnout at Tuesday’s meeting.
He told those in attendance to continue advocating for the design elements they wanted to see in the park, and to keep voicing their support for the project as it works its way through development.
“How do you get something done like this? You show up and support,” DiBattista said. “We were fortunate that the elected officials in our town recognized that biking, skateboarding, BMXing were important.
“Inside of Camden County, this is something that is needed as well,” he said.
Beck, Gordon, and DiBattista all emphasized to those in attendance that shepherding the current project to completion could open the door for other communities to construct skate parks of their own.
“Showing up, being in these seats, being kind and consistent with this process goes a long, long way,” Beck said.
“This could be the start of a couple of these in the region.
“Once one [park] pops up, it makes it easier to get the next one,” he said.
“We’re not going to agree on everything,” Gordon said. “It’s better to have something that 70-80 percent of us agree on, and get moving. Let’s use this as a blueprint to get something done.”
“The age is wide, and the disciplines are wide – skateboards, quads, bikes, scooters,” DiBattista said.
“I feel so blessed to live in Camden County for these reasons; to see the shift towards these kinds of outdoor spaces to support our community,” he said.
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