April 2, 2021
Skaters, business, Port collaborate for Bellingham waterfront skate park
Jack Finley

Bellingham skater Cash McClane kickflips over a homemade ramp under the Chestnut Street bridge.

photo: Jack Finley © 2021
April 2, 2021
Skaters, business, Port collaborate for Bellingham waterfront skate park
Jack Finley

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A local business owner and rag-tag group of skaters have cleaned up an abandoned parking lot under the Chestnut Street bridge on the Bellingham waterfront — and hope to make it their own.

Removing scrap wood, scattered garbage and used needles, skaters turned the abandoned parking lot into a DIY skatepark.

For many skaters in the Pacific Northwest, skating year-round is nothing but a pipe dream due to wet and prolonged winters.

Now, Unknown Board Shop and the Port of Bellingham have teamed up with skaters to transform the once abandoned lot into a plaza-style skatepark along the waterfront that could be used year-round, even on those rainy days.

The skatepark will be included as part of a larger plan to develop 36 acres of waterfront property.

The Port and the City of Bellingham have joined forces to work on a multiyear plan to develop Bellingham’s waterfront into community spaces for public parks and walking trails, and areas for businesses and condominiums, according to Mike Hogan, public affairs administrator for the Port.

Seeking a positive vibe

The proposed park won’t just be any regular skatepark, and the owner of Unknown Board Shop, Zack Garza, will be the first to say that.

Kevin Welch
Kevin Welch balances on two wheels atop a skate obstacle at a proposed skatepark site near the Bellingham waterfront. (Jack Finley photo © 2021)

“I just want it to have a really positive vibe instead of being a graffiti-filled, crappy scene. I’d rather have a place where people don’t feel bad about dropping their kid off,” Garza said during a phone interview. “Some people say, ‘let’s just build a skatepark,’ but do we really want another skatepark? Those exist everywhere. What you want is thought-out, awesome obstacles that are artistic, that look good and skate good.”

The port is currently working with city officials to get the OK to build the park on city property.

A right-of-way use agreement was signed between the two parties to allow the port’s use of the space for parking and storage of construction materials.

At the moment, the use agreement does not allow for any other use of the property, but with full support from the city, according to Hogan, the two are working to expand the agreement to allow the use of an interim skatepark.

“The first thing we need to do is get the use agreement,” Hogan said. “The second thing we would do is go in and make sure it was safe and a nice recreational use.”

Hogan said that subject to the port commission approval, the port would invest some money to build some features and incorporate community artwork, and would work with Unknown Board Shop and skating stakeholders.

“I think the skaters just appreciate a big paved area that is covered to go hang out,” Hogan said.

Garza said that, for nearly 20 years, he has had his eye on the once privately owned, covered spot below the bridge which gives protection from all weather conditions.

With no set date for construction to begin, some skaters have already got a head start on creating their ideal park.

‘Garden of Skaten’

In the last six months, Garza and other local skaters have slowly transformed the asphalt lot under the bridge.

Eric Negomir, a skater and a junior at Western Washington University, attributes the authenticity and location of the park to be a main attraction.

“The skateparks are out from the center of town and it sort of quarantines the skaters,” Negomir, a Colorado native, said. “But here, it’s in the city and at a natural end point which makes it appealing. All roads lead to that spot, and it’s also covered, which is huge.”

Creativity plays another huge role in the popularity of the “Garden of Skaten,” as Garza hopes to call the future plaza development.

The do-it-yourself aspect of the parking pad under the bridge gives skaters the freedom to create any obstacle they want.

“It definitely incorporates creativity and the culture, because, the way I see it, skateboarding is all about repurposing things and interpreting your environment,” Negomir said in describing the uniqueness of the covered area. 

“The way skateparks are designed, there is one way you are supposed to interpret them, and they are very intentional in how your movements are supposed to be. Whereas, the whole appeal of a DIY is that it’s a much more organic zone where people are building whatever they can come up with and what they want to skate.”

Safe, creative space

The Port of Bellingham and Unknown Board Shop plan to keep creativity at the forefront of the street-style skatepark.

 A once-vacant lot along Bellingham’s waterfront now houses various skate obstacles contributed by skaters hoping to see the area established as skatepark.(Jack Finley photo © 2021)

A majority of the obstacles will be built so they can be moved to create new skate lines or be removed if need be.

“It is going be a while before anything is permanently installed, but no one really minds because it is actually really fun having that freedom of moving stuff around,” Garza said.

Garza is focused on the community aspect of the park and wants to ensure that it remains a safe place where everyone is welcome. He has been keeping the current DIY park clean, with the help of other skaters, to provide a welcoming space.

“We started to do a weekly trip down there where we would clean up the trash and scrape off all the moss and sweep the area,” Garza said. “We have a little crew and are trying to build that crew and just go down there and visualize what needs to be done.”

Garza envisions an aesthetically pleasing park that represents a real city vibe. For the time being, the garbage- and needle-free lot below the bridge houses a space of creativity and growth for a community that has an abundance of both, with full support from the port and community leaders.