Burnside Skatepark – A Skatepark for skaters, built by Skaters!

Special thanks for Kent Dahlgren, Public Relations of Dreamland Skateparks, for his time and consideration.

by: Miho Hosaka – The original story was produced on Feb 14th 04

The Story of Burnside Skatepark

About a decade ago, a skater would not typically consider the pacific-northwest state of Oregon to be an optimal place to travel due to its reputation for continuous rainy weather and the fact the skateboarding was practically illegal. If coming to the west coast to skate, it’s obvious that one would choose the sunnier option of California.

A person also wouldn’t have to worry about the possible threat of being arrested for riding around town.

Oregon was not a skate-friendly state, and any kid seen with a skateboard was automatically presumed as a nuisance, a vandal and a criminal. There was a significant skate scene, but no where to ride.

The prejudice held against skaters by business owners and cops would seem to be justified since there was no place to legally skate. The safe places to ride were those places where vandals and criminals loitered.

Sometimes when things suck, however, good things generally come out of it. Despite the social oppression suffered by the skateboarders of Oregon in the past, it built a generation of skaters/craftsmen. With no place to skate, skaters were forced to design and build their own ramps, grind boxes and other obstacles to challenge them in their sport.

In the early 90’s, a group of Portland skaters emerged into the public eye. All in their late-teens to early twenties, these skaters were sick of their homemade equipment constantly being torn down or burned, and tired of being kicked out of any public place for just wanting “to skate so fu**ing bad.”

These kids were smart, and knew that continuing to fight with their enemies would get them no where. Like the adage goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.

They became allies with their foes and built one of the most challenging skateparks in the world guerilla-style: Burnside Skatepark (featured on Activision 02’s Tony Hawk 1)- no helmets or pads required, no rules. “You have to be a wicked versatile skater to ride that park.”

Through this triumph, those kids, now adults, have created their own company, Dreamland Skateparks, and Oregon is now the leader in skate spots with the most public skateparks (over 94 cities having one or more skateparks) per capita than any other place in the world.

Contrary to popular belief, Halloween was not the night these kids originally broke ground underneath the Burnside Bridge (I think the guys had better things to do on Halloween). The first bank went up late summer of 1990. This area is under a four-lane bridge and covers about 9,000 square feet of a former asphalt parking lot.

Formerly known as “Hobo Camp,” it housed every type of stereotypical undesirable imaginable: the homeless, drunks, prostitutes and drug addicts. This is most likely because the bridge above provided year around cover from the elements and Baloney Joe’s soup kitchen was only a block away.

So, without a master plan, appropriate tools, money or city approval, two-five kids (which eventually grew to about 10-20 kids) fought off the trannies; cleaned up all the clothes, hair, blood and loads of human feces; and braved the bruises, blisters, raw skin, hypodermic needle pricks, nails being slammed through the middle of their feet, and catching on fire from a freak beer/gasoline accident to build Burnside Skatepark.

Despite their “punk as fu**” attitude, the guys were all good at kissing ass. They made themselves known in the area by talking with the local business owners and attending neighborhood meetings. The skaters portrayed their park as part of the solution to the otherwise dangerous industrial area, and gave cops no reason to get out of their cars.

With actions like that, at two nearly simultaneous moments, two significant public figures took notice and volunteered their time to advocate for the skaters at Burnside. Joanne Ferrero, CEO of R.J. Templeton, made a major stand on behalf of the skatepark at the Central Eastside’s district meeting and John Larkin, a local cop, went to city hall to get support for the skatepark because crime in the sketchy area was beginning to diminish. Then on June 15th, 1992, with support through city hall and the business community, Resolution 1153 was reached which supports skateboarding under the Burnside Bridge.

The fact remains that the skatepark was built illegally and can be torn down at a moment’s notice. A cop and a CEO, however, are basically responsible for the continued existence of Burnside.

As young scrappers, one would never predict that these kids would grow up to be family men and successful business owners. These same kids were the ones who would break into Skate Church (an Oregon indoor skate facility), take acid, listen to Slayer and skate all night, then clean it all up and go home. These guys were blue-collar kids and builders, so it was a natural extension for these hard workers to become skatepark designers and engineers. After all, they have been building ramps since they were kids. The bulk of Burnside that exists today was completed in 1994. Once the skatepark got famous, phones started ringing. A small portion of the skaters who were significant factors of the construction of Burnside went off to build their first official park in Lincoln City, Oregon, and then created their company, Dreamland Skateparks.

Dreamland Skateparks Company is run by eight skaters and their families. These guys have been skating for over 20 years and are all sponsored to some extent (they prefer to keep it low key). The name “Dreamland” came from people commenting that the Northwest is a dreamland for skaters. They are a quality driven company They will lose money on a project in order to make it perfect Dreamland work. All their projects are researched before any designing begins in order to build the “fly-paper” skateparks that continually attract people, and keeps them engaged and challenged. For example, before going to the drawing board when designing Hailey, Idaho’s Dreamland Skatepark, the company studied what people ride in the area. In Idaho, residents are snowed in nine months of the year. So, many people snowboard. They prefer speed and are not afraid to roll over on a full-pipe. It’s scary as hell, but it matches the audience in Idaho. What makes Dreamland Skateparks sticky is in their design and execution. The skateparks are not for leisurely rolls. Apparently, there are three skateparks being built a week and, unfortunately, the majority of them suck ass. These park developers have the right intentions, but the fact of the matter is that the majority of those parks are designed and built by people who don’t skate and have never built skate equipment.

Dreamland Skateparks receives over 30,000 hits a month on their Web site, and hundreds of phone calls a day for their services. This company is a success because of the perfect mix of personalities and skills, and most importantly, their devotion to skateboarding.

They have built over 12 skateparks in America, one in Austria, and have projects pending in Hawaii, California and North Carolina. Dreamland has designed and built skateparks for their friends and celebrities, and there are talks of building a multiple story, 45-foot “death thing” with 3 full-pipes and bowls on each corner in their own back yard.

It is disappointing that the skateboarding media continues to send the message to focus on the trick and expect the city to give skaters a crappy place to ride.

Burnside Skatepark was not built by the city; it was built by skaters. The media should relay this message to the new generation of skaters: empower yourself and “do it yourself”. Don’t wait for the city to do it. You can start building your own skateparks. Perhaps there will be more Burnsides and Dreamlands, creating the best case scenario: skateparks for skaters, built by skaters.

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