How to Build A Skate Park: Never Give Up
Back in June, the Village of Pemberton took out a full page ad in the local newspapers to announce the Official Completion of the Pemberton Skate Park. And I gave a little fistpump at the fact that Jeff Clarke and Annikka Snow, who had been the project’s driving force for over a decade, outranked the Government of Canada and all the other VIPs, powerbrokers and funders. Protocol be damned. The truth is, although hundreds of people helped rally and fundraise and design and support the project, without Jeff and Annikka, there is absolutely no way the Skate Park, one of downtown Pemberton’s coolest features, would exist. So, we finally got a chance to do a Q+A with them. Pemberton ‘growers and makers, movers and shakers’-extraordinaire.
I wonder how Stephen Harper/Mark Strahl feel about you guys getting top billing in that Thank You ad?!?
Mark Strahl might actually read the Pique magazine and he probably thinks it’s great. Stephen Harper I am sure has bigger fish to fry…
What did you know about a. skateboarding, b. building a skate park and c. raising money, when you embarked on this project?
Jeff had just started skateboarding a bit and our son and his friends were already skateboarding and we had really good experiences from different skateparks. We had no idea what it would take to build one but we wanted to do it for the kids and the community and were naive enough to think it wouldn’t be that hard… We kind of had ideas of how to raise money but we did not know how much we would have to raise.
When did you begin it all?
It kind of started for real in 2002 when Jeff was skateboarding with the kids and happened to say that “One day we will have a skatepark in Pemberton”…
All the kids just jumped right on that and asked what they would have to do and how to get started and not long after that, the first meeting was held and we formed the Pemberton Skateboard Society. It started very small with a few really keen kids and their parents.
Why you guys? Who were you to do this?
It was just the right thing to do and one thing led to another.
If you want something to happen you have to make it happen. No one else is going to do it for you.
The more we talked about a skatepark, the more convinced we were that this was something we needed to do. Kids and young people in town didn’t really have a place to hang out and socialize and be active at the same time and we knew that a skatepark would fill that need. It is free and there is no schedule or opening hours.
Maybe we have never really grown up and still believe in people and that we can do stuff if we get together and never give up…
How much money was raised overall, to make it happen?
We started out raising about $35,000 before we even had a location for the park and when things got going for real the Society raised over $130,000.
We did bottle drives and sold T-shirts and hats and did bake sales and BBQ’s, skate jams and an art show.
We had fundraising dinners, did a music night and members of the community put on events that made money for the skatepark.
Then of course the Build Canada grant clinched the deal, so to speak.
What are the key ingredients for a kick ass Skate Park?
Good “flow” and fun and challenging street features but also variety so everyone can use it. From beginners and little kids and “old” guys to the awesome skaters who defy gravity and make everything look easy and beautiful. Our skatepark has a real pool with pool coping and that makes our park special…
Initially you were motivated to do this so your son had somewhere to hang out, and by the time you’d managed to get the project off the ground, he’d headed off to university. Do you think he still got something out of the experience?
Oliver helped out in all kinds of ways and was a big part of making the skatepark happen – even when he was at university. He likes coming back to Pemberton to skate and he is amazed at how good the kids are now. The skatepark project has been a fantastic experience for Oliver and he is very proud of the fact that it all came to be. He saw all the ups and downs and heard all about the difficulties and obstacles and he definitely understands all the work that went in to this.
He learned that if you believe in something – don’t ever give up – no matter what happens.
What was Pemberton like back in 2002? Why was it so necessary and important to build something for youth?
There wasn’t really anything for youth to do that was not organized, scheduled and cost money. Skateboarding is a great sport and athletic activity. It keeps you fit, it is creative and challenging and there is a very important social component. Skateboarders teach each other, look out for each other and challenge each other to do new and great things. It brings young and “old” together and people from all parts of the community.
How many grants did you end up writing to pull this off?
6 or so… over 8 years. We got better at it as we applied and figured out how to get all our “ducks in a row” before even asking for money…
What was the division of labour between the two of you?
Jeff started out being the driving force but through the years we took turns being the passionate one that would do anything to keep it going. Our family life was sometimes consumed by talking skate park and planning fundraisers or sorting bottles or whatever had to be done. We took turns almost giving up but would pick the other one up and keep going. You have to finish what you started.
Any idea how many hours you put in, to bring the Skate Park to completion?
Really have no idea. Many late nights, many weekends, endless meetings, endless phone calls – at times it was all consuming but most of the time we enjoyed the work.
Where did the design come from?
Spectrum Skate Park Designs of North Vancouver. The owner Jim Barnum was with us from the very beginning and would always give advice and support. He is a keen skateboarder and was always listening to us and all the skate boarders in town. The design was tweaked many times and many meetings were held to get it just right.
What were the turning points, when you thought, yep, we’ve got lift-off?
We applied to the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation a couple of times and were rejected but they kept telling us they wanted to support us when we were more “ready”.
That was the first lift-off and when council really got behind the idea and the Village was able to apply for and get the Build Canada Grant, then we really took off. That grant program was created as a way to get Canada out of a recession and we are eternally grateful that the economy took a dive… just joking! But it was a lot of money and without it we would probably still be cooking hot dogs and burgers and doing bottle drives…
What was the most unexpected place that help came from?
Georgette Metcalfe and some friends of hers decided to put on a fashion show and give all the proceeds to the skate park and Mike Walsh did an evening at Pemberton Hotel and got his business friends to donate a whole bunch of money. Also all the artists that painted skateboards for the art show and all the people who bought the art. We were overwhelmed by the support. Things really took off then.
When did you feel the most despair? (I remember attending the town hall/AGM, I think, with a huge group of people gathered to try and get it moved from under the powerlines, and thinking, “holy shit, this thing is going to go off the rails. And that will be it. Jeff and Annikka will surely walk away…”)
The power line issue was a big one – we felt that we had tried to do the best we could with what we had and it still wasn’t good enough. We felt that a lot of these people trying to move the park didn’t understand what had happened before or how much time and effort had gone in to it and we couldn’t help taking it kind of personally… No one likes those power lines but we had no choice unless we wanted to put the park way out the valley somewhere.
There were other times we were in deep despair – when our grant applications were rejected or when it was so hard to get anyone to help with things.
We talked, laughed a bit and cried at times but dusted each other off and kept going. We owed it to the kids.
If you knew then, back around 2000, what you know now, would you have kept going?
Absolutely! We would know how to do some things differently to save time and effort but I would do it all over again. It has been so rewarding!
Are you guys still involved with the Skate Park, or the Society?
Yes – we are working on the finishing touch – the drinking fountain. “The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Fountain of Youth”. It is our way of saying thank you for their support and of course a drinking fountain is badly needed both for the skatepark and the bike tracks. It should be coming in the next month…
The purpose of the Skateboard Society was to build a skatepark and that has been done but the society might evolve in to something slightly different.
What would you tell someone who’s starting out with a desire to create something big and bold and never before done?
Don’t lose focus on why you started in the first place. With the right attitude and some idealism anything can be done. Be prepared to work at it and maybe make some sacrifices but don’t give up! Our project was very small compared to some things people have accomplished and my advice is to look around and learn from what others have done.
How do you feel when you cruise by that space now?
They don’t have to tell us that the speed limit is 30 km – we slow down to a crawl and take it all in. All the work was so worth it when we see all the different people there having a good time. The village has done such a good job landscaping and it is just like we envisioned things to be. It’s a beautiful thing.
How long have you guys lived in Pemberton?
What do you like most about it?
It is wonderful to be part of a community where people know and care about each other.
Will you be signing up for any more capital projects or volunteering gigs again? Or do you feel like you’ve earned your right to step back and pass the torch?
We’re not taking the lead on anything new – just yet – but there are so many things we can work on and we will find another “good cause”…
What is your son doing these days? Still skateboarding? Has he skated at the Park? What’s he think of it?
Oliver is starting his 4th year at Quest University in Squamish in September. He is definitely still a keen skateboarder and loves to skate in the Pemberton Park every time he’s home. He helped design it and thinks it turned out just the way he wanted it to.
Follow the Pemberton Skateboard Society on facebook, and check in with the Pemby Skate Crew, a bunch of local kids who skate good and for good, and can probably teach you a thing or two about some smooth moves: