At right, Nathan VanHooser, 21, of Bruce Township, gets some air at the top of the bowl while Tristan Gelinsk, 10, of St. Clair Shores, rides by on a BMX bike at the Sterling Heights skate park.

At right, Nathan VanHooser, 21, of Bruce Township, gets some air at the top of the bowl while Tristan Gelinsk, 10, of St. Clair Shores, rides by on a BMX bike at the Sterling Heights skate park.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Public skate parks carve out huge space in recreation market

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Metro | Published July 28, 2021

 Mason Richards, 13, can be found most of the time working at his family’s store, Great Lakes Skate Shop, in downtown Clawson.

Mason Richards, 13, can be found most of the time working at his family’s store, Great Lakes Skate Shop, in downtown Clawson.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

METRO DETROIT — When most of us think of the standard amenities at our local municipal park, we see images of basketball courts, walking trails and swing sets. The old favorites.

But for those in the business of recreation, skate parks are the new must-have attraction for parks. What was once considered an offbeat find is now the new standard of public facilities.

Mason Richards, 13, of Clawson, prefers a skate park to just riding on the streets.

“There are more obstacles. It’s fun to just flow around and see people you know,” he said.

And Richards knows a thing or two about the skate scene. He was turned on to skateboarding when he was just a tike, watching his older cousins zip around on their boards. Now, the 13-year-old is the operator of Great Lakes Skate Shop in downtown Clawson, a business his dad started when Richards was 9.

“You get into a zone,” Richards said of skateboarding. “You forget about everything else, and your mind is just focused on one thing.”

With promises of stress relief, a little exercise and a bit of socializing with pals, it’s easy to see why skate parks are packed each day with skaters, bikers, rollerbladers and scooter fans of all ages.

“A lot of times, we get into this stereotypical mode of thinking that (wheeled sports are) an activity for teens. Our skate park has really catered to all ages. We see young children through adults enjoying it on a day-to-day basis,” said Kyle Langlois, the parks and recreation director for the city of Sterling Heights.

Langlois said that long before the city’s skate park opened in 2017 with a price tag of about $600,000, he had a stack of letters from residents at his desk asking for one to be installed. But that was no guarantee the project would be worth the cost.

“There’s more people in the wheeled sports community than what we had thought. We knew it was something that was going to be well received, but even we weren’t certain just how successful it would be. It’s exceeded all expectations,” he said.

In fact, Langlois said his department has already looked into adding another skate park — this one with more of a flat streetscape plaza of rails and walls, as opposed to the current attraction with in-ground bowls skaters can drop into.

“Some users have expressed a desire for something like that, that’s more intense,” he said. “A lot of fans look up to these heroes and role models on the professional circuit no different than they would pro basketball or pro football. Events like the X Games highlight a certain style of athletics and a certain skill level.”

Richards has his eye on a professional career in skating, along with running Great Lakes Skate Shop. When he’s not putting in the hours at Clawson Skate Park, Riverside Skate Park in Detroit, or Modern Skate and Surf in Royal Oak, he’s behind the counter advising customers on what they need to “get on board.”

“People come in looking for complete decks, which is everything from the wheels and bearings to the deck (board), grip tape and hardware,” Richards said, explaining that the biggest difference between products is the size of the board itself and the graphics featured on the bottom. “There’s a whole range of levels of skating, so if you’re doing it every day for an hour (you’ll need equipment more frequently).”

While the boards and bikes require different kinds of gear and care, the skate parks themselves are relatively low maintenance for public works staff, making it a win-win for municipalities and the residents footing the bill.

“The users do a decent job of keeping the facility clean, which is really just picking up after themselves, but besides keeping the bowls clean and blown out (from mud) and cement repairs, it’s not too bad,” Langlois said.


‘But it’s dangerous!’
Many parents cringe at the thought of their kids skateboarding, since mastering the sport inherently comes with some falls off the board. But according to Google Trends, skateboarding has a lower rate of injury in the United States than football, baseball, softball, basketball and soccer.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports similar findings, adding that the most common skateboarding injuries are less severe — like cuts, bruises and sprains — compared to other sports, which yield a higher rate of bone breaks and concussions.

Proper safety gear can protect users from more serious injuries.