The forbidden zone

This unidentified skater risked being ticketed in order to ride the unfinished park in June.

This unidentified skater risked being ticketed in order to ride the unfinished park in June.

Photo By Don Button

When the city of Sacramento built one of California’s largest skate parks, it sent a message that skateboarding had climbed the ranks from misdemeanor to celebrated cultural pastime. The 40,000-square-foot Granite Regional Skate Park promised sanctuary in the hills off Power Inn Road, where skaters can grind ledges and drop into bowls without fear of fines or police harassment. All summer long, the wheel-friendly landscape has beckoned, and skaters have answered the call. Unfortunately, they’re still breaking the law to do so.

Almost two months after its projected opening date, Granite Regional remains closed to the public. “I wish I could tell you when it will open,” said Sacramento City Associate Landscape Architect Roy Tatman. Citing “sometime in fall” as his best estimate, Tatman added that the opening has been delayed in order to secure funding for extra amenities like trees and fencing.

Northern California’s skate community has decided not to wait. Flat Spot skate-shop owner Mike Rafter, who has been ticketed for trespassing at the park, said he’s received calls about Granite Regional from every major skateboarding magazine. “The magazines have already been there,” he said. “It’ll be in the magazines before it’s open.” Granite Regional is listed in Thrasher’s online skate-park index, along with driving directions and 12 color photos of the terrain.

“I get calls from the pros in San Francisco: ‘Yeah. We heard the park’s done,’” said professional skater Judd Hertzler, who estimates he’s skated there seven or eight times already. “They’ll come out, and I’ll skate with them. Everyone’s blown away because it’s huge, and it’s a pretty developed park.”

Police have issued dozens of trespassing citations, but skaters (and occasional BMX bikers and rollerbladers) seem undeterred. “We can’t complain,” Rafter said, shrugging. “If they’re not making the effort to kick us out, then they’re liable if we get hurt.”

Besides, local skaters have larger concerns about the park. The biggest is whether the city will charge admission and require athletes to wear helmets and pads—conditions deemed unacceptable by most of Sacramento’s professional and team-sponsored skaters. The city has indefinitely postponed a public meeting to debate these options, and the skate community is getting nervous.

“It has to be a free park,” Rafter said. “You don’t have to pay to use a city basketball court.”

“Folsom’s got an amazing skate park, but they charge, so no one goes there,” Hertzler said. “If it costs money, most of the diehard skating community is not going to go. You’re gonna get a couple of older guys wearing full pads, and you’re going to get little kids.”

Mike Dopson, recreation supervisor for the Elk Grove Community Services District, observed this trend firsthand when Elk Grove’s skate park instituted a supervised, fee-based program this summer. The regulations came after complaints of teen drug use, weapons possession and one gang-related assault caused the park’s 10-month closure last year.

“Attendance has obviously dropped off quite a bit,” Dopson said, adding that most attendees now range in age from 6 to 13. “We followed Folsom’s model. We’re trying to reach the young kids now. When they grow up in the culture of understanding that ‘If I want to go to a skate park, I have to pay, and I have to wear my pads and helmet to do so,’ by the time they become a teenager, it’s something they’ve always done.

“Ideally, I would want everyone to come,” Dopson explained, “but I can’t really help the fact that if the older kids don’t think it’s cool, they’re not going to show up.”

Dopson did think an unsupervised model could fit Granite Regional. “If it’s fairly isolated, it could probably work well as an unsupervised park,” he said, “if there’s nothing else for them to do but go to the skate park.”

“I don’t think the city knows what they’ve just built,” said Rafter. “We could have the X Games here, easy. We could have nationally televised events.”

But first, the park has to open.