Riding over cracks, around holes and across broken, rough cement was enough for Taos skateboarder and artist Oliver “Ollie” Bell. He decided to take action.
Nearly 20 years ago, skateboarders in Taos were given the gift of a skate park at the Taos Youth and Family Center. Those, including Bell, who were there for the beginning of the park watched over the years as the concrete slowly gave way to use, decay and lack of upkeep; repairs to the park have been rare. Slowly, the skating community of the area faded away or chose to skate elsewhere.
“I spent years skating this park by myself when there was not a feeling like any sort of community,” said Bell.
The skate park at the Youth and Family Center officially opened in December of 1999, according to Youth and Family Center Director Brian Greer, and has only seen minimal repairs done since. “That concrete has deteriorated over the past 20 years,” said Greer. “We would like a brand-new, better and enhanced skate park.”
Bell and other skaters in town grew tired of waiting and took matters into their own hands recently to fix the park they use on a sometimes daily basis.
For national Go Skateboarding Day, June 21, Bell took several bags of concrete, buckets and trowels and enlisted the help of a few friends to start making some of the basic repairs needed at the skate park. The crew began by mixing the concrete and laying it over where major use and other factors had rendered the surface too rough to ride. The first repairs by Bell were done to a large section in the middle of the park, where the smooth concrete had been chipped away, exposing some of the rough rocks underneath the surface and making it dangerous to ride over. Since the first trip, Bell has bought and mixed 15 bags of instant concrete and laid them down where he and the group felt they were most needed, making areas of the park skateable after several years of people avoiding them.
The small all-volunteer crew has since grown to include skaters, families of skaters and friends to support a community effort to get the repairs done. The group numbered nearly 10 people for a recent repair effort. Bell and the crew of locals, many of whom had never touched wet concrete before, smoothed out the rough surfaces and made several damaged areas of the park skateable.
Greer has seen the issues and conditions at the park and acknowledges the need for repairs, but says funding is the reason the town has done so little repair work. After undergoing a needed $1.1 million project to renovate the roof and pool, Greer is taking the repairs one step at a time and has plans to potentially upgrade the skate park once funds become available.
“Parents of kids are coming out and showing excitement that someone is taking care of the park again,” said professional skateboarder Joel Meinholz. “A lot of kids, they end up hitting these old cracks and falling. It’s also empowering – all these other people who have never done cement work and taking ownership of [this] place.”
Meinholz has been skating at the park as often as he can since December and has been instrumental in showing newcomers to the effort the basics of working with fresh concrete. Ensuring that the efforts to fix the areas didn’t end up worse than the damage in the first place, Meinholz instructed several skaters on how the concrete should lay and what to do if they did mess up while it was drying.
Bell admits he originally started the idea of repairs so he could skate the park smoothly and worry free again, but the project quickly evolved into a community effort that gathered skaters together for the efforts. Although the major needed repairs are completed at the moment, Bell says this is not the end of the work or the efforts to better the park. “We will need to keep doing repairs every year as long as we want that place around,” said Bell.
The repair project is not sanctioned by city officials. Since Bell and volunteers started repairs, members of the group said they have seen an increase in the numbers of skaters in the park on a daily basis.
“It feels good to fix it,” said skater Robbie Forbes. “It warms your heart and feels good inside because you finally get to skate an area that’s been too chewed up to do so.”
Bell, who once skated the dilapidated park alone, sees a deeper change. “Now, there is a community where we can get together.”