College Park skaters now have a temporary place to call their own after Leonardtown Skatepark’s grand opening Jan. 27.
Members of the University of Maryland Skateboarding Club and WeSkate at UMD filled the park with $7,000 worth of obstacles and equipment, such as rails and ramps, a budget gifted by University Recreation and Wellness.
Located outside of the Leonardtown Community Center, the park will eventually have to relocate again due to the new graduate housing being built. RecWell is working with the student groups to find a new permanent spot, which RecWell Director Jay Gilchrist said has been challenging.
“Nobody wants to give up parking spaces for skateboarding or plazas or anything like that,” Gilchrist said. “It’s a tough, tough search.”
The skateboarders’ need for a space came to light after RecWell removed donated skating equipment from an abandoned basketball court in Leonardtown. The groups came together with the help of Rev. Nathan Hill of the University Christian Church to discuss finding a permanent skate space with RecWell.
Hill said as an avid skateboarder himself, he sympathized with the students and connected them with RecWell. He believes skateboarders often are viewed negatively and deserve their own space.
“Skateboarding is one of the most creative activities and sports in the world,” Hill said. “It’s so full of energy and positivity and such a diverse community.”
Gilchrist said the removal of the skate equipment was not facilitated by him and that members of his staff were asked by the Department of Resident Life to get rid of it, which made him more inclined to help the groups.
Despite originally being kicked out of Leonardtown, RecWell eventually decided to let the skaters stay since it was one of the few spots available. Gilchrist said the new skate park will probably stay for around eight months to a year depending on construction.
Difficulty finding a space is not new for skateboarders at this university as they navigate the hilly campus, traffic patterns, hecklers and campus officials.
WeSkate, an all-skill-level club for women, non-binary, non-gender conforming and LGBTQ+ students, sent out a poll last April about people’s experiences with skating on the campus that received more than 300 responses. Nearly 59 percent of respondents said they know someone that has been harassed while skating on the campus, while nearly 16 percent said they have experienced it themselves.
For WeSkate President Emma Yockman, a senior biology major, having a designated space will help foster a community that is more accepting of all people and change the norms of skateboarding culture, which she describes as predominantly straight, cisgender men who have been skating for years.
“By empowering ourselves to go to this space, we’re not only proving to ourselves that we can do it … , we are also building connections with these people and showing them, ‘Hey we’re people too, we’re skateboarders too,’ ” Yockman said.
For the Skateboarding Club President Atem Fontem a permanent skate space would help him share his love for skateboarding with more people who want to get started.
“Skating’s one of my biggest passions and I want to bring that happiness that it gives me [to my] fellow Terps and other peers,” Fontem said.