I'm a huge fan of the Burnside Skatepark in Portland...and I'm not even a skateboarder!
What thrills me most about this world-famous Portland skatepark is the story behind it. It's a true story that should excite anyone with an entrepreneurial bone in their body. It's a tale that epitomizes the Portland spirit of creativity and drive. If you skateboard, you'll love it just that much more! ;)
The Burnside Skatepark is quite literally one of the most famous skate parks in the world. Ranked by well-known skateboarder, Tony Hawk, as one of his Top 5 skate parks in the world (USA Today, May 5, 2003), it is featured in both the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 video games and the Grind Session video game. This amazing park has set the stage as an example to all up-and-coming public-built skate parks everywhere.
Skateboarding enthusiasts from all over the world have come to compete against and enjoy the challenge of the Park. This is not some half-baked endeavor....this is a skate park built and maintained with a passion and love for the sport. Much blood, sweat and tears continue to be pumped into the project.
Now, you'd think that such a famous, world-renowned skate park would exist in one of the most upscale parts of the city of Portland, maybe inside a gorgeous building, with concessions, a skate shop and other wonderful things. The truth is, the Burnside Skatepark sits under the Burnside Bridge on the East side of the Willamette River, with nothing around it but the open air, the fleeting traffic above it and the bustling businesses around it.
The Burnside Skate Park is privately funded and relies on donations to stay running and growing.
Now for the story.....
In 1990, a few guys, Mark Scott, Bret Taylor, Sage Bolyard, and Osage Buffulo decided they wanted a prime place to skate. After a couple initial failures in their neighborhoods (landlords and other stumbling blocks), the crew grabbed some tools and a couple bags of cement they already had sitting around and headed downtown, underneath the Burnside Bridge. At that time, under the bridge was a pretty awful place. Crime was high and it was a mess with prostitution, transients and dirty syringes...just to name a few of the troubles. But, their vision was there, so the clean-up began.
It started as a few late nights, experimenting with mixing cement and giving their small dream a bit of structure. Keep in mind, that these guys had zero experience doing this sort of thing and only their own money to do anything with....they simply wanted a place to skate.
After getting some pretty sweet ramps built, it started to catch the notice of other skateboarders in the area, each wanting to come and skate. The word was getting out. Not only was the project being noticed by the skaters, but the businesses around it were giving it a cock-eyed hard-look. If you've ever skated or are a skateboarder now, you fully understand the stigma that goes along with it. People who don't "get it" think you're a rebel, a troublemaker, a problem child. Given those preconceived ideas, you can understand the concerns of many business owners surrounding the area. They we're not too thrilled at first.
Not long after getting started, the city began work on the Interstate 84 on-ramp, sending down crews of workers and materials. A deal between the Burnside Skatepark crew and Ross Island Sand & Gravel Co, the Portland company contracted for the on-ramp job, was struck and the trucks began dumping their excess cement over at the soon-to-be skate park. This really kicked things into high-gear and the creativity began to flow freely. The Burnside crew also got the help of a gentlemen who was generous enough to bring down his old backhoe and do some needed digging for them.
Since it's early genesis, the Burnside Skatepark has received helped from many unnamed individuals with the same passion. They've come, they've gone, but their contributions, in whatever form, are forever. The skatepark is totally unsanctioned by the city of Portland (liability issues, you know), but they have given the project a sideways nod and smile. With the skate park "finished," it will never really be complete. The crew continues to improve, maintain and put their best feet forward to grow this terrific place.
And it was was all started and completed by a bunch of skaters with a passion, that refused to take "no" for an answer. Didn't I tell you it was quite a story?
There is no admission to the Park and no mandatory gear requirement...nonetheless, be smart and safe. K? ;) All they ask is that you be respectful. Make sure not to park in anyone's parking lot and act maturely. The city totally has the right to shut this amazing project down at whim, so treat it all as if it were your very own.
For the full history of the Burnside Skatepark, visit Chuck Willis' blog (Chuck contacted and informed me that the skatepark is now a 501(c)(3) (a tax-exempt charitable organization...very cool!)). It's a fascinating read!