New facility will be another piece in the recreation/tourism puzzle

This Christmas might be a good time for kids in Morganton to ask Santa for a new skate board, because Morganton’s new municipal skate park should be open by then!

Parks and Recreation Director Rob Winkler said Artisan Skate Parks has to finish up two other projects before coming to Morganton, but he thinks the company will start pouring and forming concrete mid fall.

“We hope to start construction in mid-September, and we hope to be done before Christmas,” Winkler said. “The builders have two projects ahead of us, so we’re waiting on them to finish up those projects, and head our way.”

When Artisan does get to town, they’re going to be building a park that has something for everyone. Pillar Design Studios incorporated feedback from the last public meeting into their final design and created a plaza style skate park with some extras.

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The final design from Pillar Design Studios includes a lot of elements requested during the public meeting in April including a fun box, stairs, and a bowl. See more photos below.

The latest design has rails; it has steps; it has a bowl; it has a fun box; it has places to grind; but maybe the most important thing the new park has is a great location right in downtown.

The new skate park will be built on the lower baseball field behind Collett Street Recreation Center. The City owns the property and decided to re-purpose it for the new park. The site already has parking and restrooms, as well as some lighting, and it’s less than a 10-minute walk from the Historic Courthouse Square, less via skateboard.

The park will be even closer to The Pop Shop Skateboards, downtown’s only skate shop. The shop, owned by Eliot Lytle, is located at 211 N. Green Street, and it’s just a few minutes via skateboard to the site. Lytle grew up in Marion and Morganton and has been waiting a long time for a local skate park. Check out The Pop Shop on Facebook.

“I’ve been looking forward to this park for 30 years,” Lytle said. “I frequent other parks in the region on the weekends. Food Lion Park in Asheville has been my ‘hometown’ park for the last 15 years. It will be nice to have somewhere to skate in my own back yard.”

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Eliot Lytle, fifth from the left, opened The Pop Shop Skateboards in downtown earlier this year. He helped organize local skaters and build public support for the project. Check out The Pop Shop on Facebook

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The shop, located at 211 N. Green St., is just a short skate away from the new skate park site. Check out The Pop Shop on Facebook

Lytle has been instrumental in organizing the skater community. He started attending the City’s Recreation Advisory Commission meetings almost two years ago and has been building public support for the new skate park ever since. Lytle has worked to keep the local skaters informed about the project and to get them to attend the City’s public meetings.

“As I understand it, the average time it takes for a group to organize and make a skate park happen is three to five years, so the City and the Parks and Recreation Department stepped up quick and made this happen,” Lytle said. “The process altogether went incredibly smooth. There was much less resistance to the idea than I expected and Parks and Recreation started making steps to make this happen almost immediately after I started bugging them about it. Gary Leondhardt, the former director, was a big help from the start.”

Skateboarding has long been viewed as a nuisance more than a sport, and that’s a legitimate concern. Skating can get rough. Skaters can damage concrete and rails and curbs; they move fast, get loud, and want to have fun. So property owners, or people just walking around downtown, often call the police to run them off.

“Skating has suffered through a negative stigma since the 80’s,” Lytle said. “Local ordinances are often enforced for skaters but ignored when other more socially acceptable sports like cycling break the same rules.”

Lytle said frequent run-ins between police and skaters have created a subculture of criminalization for teenage skaters. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The North Carolina League of Municipalities addressed this very topic in a recent podcast, “The Skatepark Solution.”

Ben Brown, who produces Municipal Equation, spoke to a police captain in Apex, a representative from the Tony Hawk Foundation, and our own Rob Winkler, Morganton’s Parks and Recreation Director, about how communities and local governments can work together to solve what some folks see as a problem and others see as an opportunity. One solution to the problem is to build a local skate park. Listen to the episode at

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Lytle echoed the sentiments expressed during the NCLM podcast – building a skate park here in Morganton will help change the paradigm around skating, and young kids who choose to skate will not necessarily view skating as a rebellious sub-culture, but as another sports-oriented lifestyle choice like cycling, baseball, or soccer. The new park will also be built to handle rough use from skaters and others, unlike street curbs and walls downtown that aren't designed for the high impact from the wheels and metal trucks on skateboards.

“The city should get mad props for supporting this,” Lytle said. “It shows they are thinking of ways to make Morganton a truly unique destination and a place where it’s not business as usual when it comes to small town living.”

Winkler said that building the new skate park is one more way for the City of Morganton to work with the community and serve its citizens.

“Recreation is different things to different people,” Winkler said. “For some people it’s playing football or soccer; for others it’s walking on the greenway or swimming at the pool; and for these guys, it’s skateboarding.”

Winkler said the project has gone well and his department has worked hard to involve the public and local skaters. Recreation staff held three public meetings so far; one to select a designer and builder; a second to review more designs and a location, and a third to get more feedback on the final design from local skaters. Lytle said the latest plan should get two thumbs up.

“The local skaters were involved in the design process and should be very happy with the design,” Lytle said. “The skaters here are street skaters primarily and the design reflects that pretty well. It’s a nice mix of transition and street.”

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Brad Siedlecki, Pillar Design Studios, led a public meeting April 20 and talked with skaters about their favorite elements for the new skate park.

The park will feature a bowled in mini ramp, a spine ramp, mani pad, hubba, handrail, 5-set of stairs, a broken sidewalk, elevated quarter pipe, a curved quarter pipe, three sided pyramid, various banks, curbs and ledges, a flat bar and more.

“It’s a great design by the best builder in the state,” Lytle said. “I’ve skated a lot of Pillar/Artisan parks and they are always designed to flow, by people who understand skating and skate parks.”

Lytle said he and the local skaters are looking forward to having a Pillar/Artisan park as their hometown skate park, and he thinks the location behind Collet Street Recreation Center is perfect.

“From the very beginning, it was understood that this park would need to be as close to the heart of downtown as possible,” Lytle said. “This makes it more practical for kids in the city to access the park without crossing the bypass on skateboards.”

The location will also help move out-of-town skaters into downtown. Lytle drives to Asheville about every weekend to skate their park, and when he’s finished, he usually stops somewhere to get a pint and a bite to eat, and maybe go record shopping.

“The city will be overwhelmed by the response,” Lytle said. “This park will be the hometown park for Marion, Lenoir and Hickory. Just wait, it will be swamped. Putting it downtown will benefit all downtown restaurants and retail spaces.”

That’s part of the plan, Winkler said. Recreation isn’t just about building ball fields, greenways, swings, and playgrounds, it’s also about tourism and bringing people into your town to shop, eat, and have fun. Catawba Meadows Park already brings hundreds of people into Morganton almost every weekend from March to October. The greenway and Martha’s Park draw people into town every day. A week ago, the new pétanque courts at the Catawba River Soccer Complex hosted a tournament filled with out-of-towners, not to mention all the soccer tournaments at the complex. The new skate park will be one more piece in that puzzle.

“Recreation can be a great economic driver,” Winkler said. “When this skate park is finished, I think we’ll see more people having fun downtown, shopping at the new skate shop, shopping at the new bike shop, and getting something to eat.”

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More than 1,000 people, including players, parents, and spectators, gathered at Catawba Meadows Park Saturday, June 3, to compete in a baseball tourney here in Morganton.

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Dozens of players from across North and South Carolina came to town Saturday, June 17, to compete in a pétanque tournament held on the new courts at Catawba River Soccer Complex.

Winkler also said he thinks his staff and local skaters will be able to work together and organize some events and competitions at the park.

“I can’t say enough good things about the local skater community,” Winkler said. “They’ve been great to work with during this process, and they really stepped up to the plate and got involved. I’m looking forward to putting on some events at the new park, and getting more skaters, and maybe more skater parents and skater families into Morganton.”

City Council approved funding for the park in the 2016-2017 budget. The City’s budget for the skate park is $180,000, which includes donations from the Morganton Recreation Foundation, Morganton Optimist Club, and Morganton Service League. The latest design is priced at about $250,000, but Winkler plans to make up the difference with in-kind services provided by the City.

“We plan to do as much work as we can ourselves, and we’re going to source some materials for the build,” Winkler said. “By providing in-kind services such as grading, the City will be able to get a lot more park for our money.”

Depending on demand and support in the community, Winkler said the park could be expanded in the future into a larger, wheeled sports venue.

“We have a lot of space on that property, so maybe we can add a pump track, maybe a mountain bike track around the property,” Winkler said. “There a lot of different options for users who want a little excitement mixed into their recreation.”

Whatever the future holds for wheeled sports in Morganton, we know that it holds a new skate park, hopefully just in time for Christmas.

Related articles:

Final Design Images

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