After years of banishment from public spaces, Arlington skateboarders now have a place of their own, a freestyle skate center unveiled Friday at Powhatan Springs Park.
The concrete skate park was designed with the help of professional skateboarder Frank Hirata.
Its 15,000-square foot layout is a seamless blend of street-style skating elements — ledges, pyramid blocks, steps and rails — along with traditional bowls and half-pipes, features reminiscent of the era when skaters practiced tricks in empty swimming pools.
"What's great here is that you can do back-to-back tricks," Hirata said, pointing out how skaters can move directly from one obstacle to the next, giving them a chance to combine techniques. "The bowls lead into a nice little concrete half-pipe. You have different kinds of experiences all over it and the street area is really going to teach kids how to ride all types of terrain."
Advanced skaterboarders "won't be disappointed with the heights of things. The flat bar is definitely challenging. The ledge on top of the pyramid is challenging. The only thing I see is that really, really, little kids might be kind of intimidated," he said.
The county broke ground on the open-air skate park in August 2003, but plans for the skate park date back to 1998, when high school students began pushing for its construction at county meetings.
"Back in high school, this was like our senior project," said Charley Robertson, a founding member of the Arlington Skateboarding Association. "We went to a bunch of county board meetings and got people to sign petitions. This is really great to see."
Entry to the skate park costs $4 for Arlington residents and $6 for non-residents. Helmets are required but other padding is optional. Children under 10 must be accompanied by an adult. No liability waiver is required. The park's concrete surfacing is smoothed to lower the potential for injuries.
"This is long overdue," said County Board member Walter Tejada, who was on hand for the park's opening. "This is another example of effective advocacy on the part of any group. In this case, young people lobbied hard for a number of years. This is a great thing for our young people to use."
Overlooking the skate park is a shaded observation deck, complete with stools and metal countertops where skaters can watch the action below and parents can monitor their children.
Architect Thomas Kerns said skateboarding played a large role in the design of the buildings surrounding the park.
"There's a lot commenting on the balance needed in skating," he said. "The columns and the roofs are purposely trying to express that. The buildings are not parallel to each other. Nothing is symmetrical and nothing is aligned, like the sport. It is just a free composition."
The opening of the skate park coincided with the opening of a new children's rain garden. Created with the help of a $75,000 donation from the Arlington Kiwanis Club, the garden is lined with jade pebbles and lush with wetland plants. Stepping stones form a small path on the shallow water, giving children the chance to explore the plants by hopping from one to the next. Drops of water are released from a small pipe every hour, mimicking the fall of rain.
Part of the garden's purpose is to create a balance between the nearby skate park and the surrounding environment.
"You have this skateboard park that is quite phenomenal and yet it is an imposition on the environment and at the same time, to counter-balance that, you have the rain garden which allows much of the storm water coming off of that facility to slowly filter back into the environment," said Jahn Rosen Queralt, an artist who consulted on the project. "You have a really lovely balance and conversation here between man and nature."