It’s one of those suddenly warm and sunny April afternoons that bring people out from hiding, and Grahm Harter, of Washougal, is no exception. The 21-year-old is basking in the sunshine on this particular Monday, watching skaters and bikers zip past him at the Camas-Washougal Riverside Skate Park.
“Skating has been my main form of therapy for two years, at least,” Harter says. “It gives us something to do with our friends.”
Skaters and bikers standing nearby add to Harter’s thoughts.
“It keeps kids from doing drugs,” one young skater shouts.
“If they’re here, they’re not sitting around on their phones all day,” 18-year-old Summer Simpson says of her peers who use the skatepark whenever the rain clouds disappear. “I don’t ride anything, but I’ll come here with my friends and watch them skate.”
Hunter Toy, 19, agrees. Having spent his entire life in Washougal, Toy has been coming to the local skatepark — the only one in East Clark County — since he was in middle school.
“It keeps kids off the street,” Toy says. “Without it, we’d have to go into Vancouver.”
For some skaters, especially the youngest park users, driving out of town isn’t exactly an option.
That’s why this group of young skaters and bikers has joined a movement to renovate and restore the 15-year-old skatepark.
Tim Laidlaw, a 53-year-old father and lifelong skater who spent his formative years in Vancouver and moved to Washougal in 2007, started the skatepark renovation efforts last November.
“I live about a mile away from the park and enjoy running my dog down there,” Laidlaw says. “Sometimes I’ll skate while the dog plays. The park was never very good. It was a mediocre park with metal ramps.”
Laidlaw came of age skating in the ’70s and ’80s, years before skaters slapped “Skateboarding is Not a Crime” stickers on everything they owned, and a good two decades before most city councilors had even thought about funding a city skatepark.
“You had to be industrious in the ’70s and ’80s,” Laidlaw says. “You had to clear the land if you wanted to skate. You had to work.”
Laidlaw was willing to do the work to clear the skatepark of thorny bushes that had grown three feet past the northern fence line and to repair the falling-apart metal ramps, but first he wanted to know who was supposed to be maintaining the skatepark.
“The park is called the Camas-Washougal Skatepark. I live in Washougal, so that’s where I started,” Laidlaw says.
In November of 2017, he went to his first Washougal City Council meeting and asked about the park. The city leaders there told him Washougal had contributed to the park’s creation, but that the city of Camas was in charge of maintaining it.
Wanting to be better prepared before his next visit to a city council meeting, Laidlaw formed a group he called Riverside Bowl — after the former Riverside Bowl bowling alley that used to stand on the property now used by the skatepark.
He took his ideas to Facebook and started researching the history of the skatepark.
“In 2001, a group of about half a dozen kids went to city hall and said they wanted to get a park built,” Laidlaw says. “So the cities did what they could, but they didn’t employ a skatepark builder.”
Instead of a professionally built park, with poured-concrete elements meant to withstand heavy use and rainy weather, skaters say the local park quickly deteriorated, with some elements, like a metal “pyramid” that used to stand in the middle of the park, having to be torn down completely.
“It’s overused,” Toy says. “We’d like to see concrete here — no metal. It would be a lot better.”
Camas Parks and Recreation Manager Jerry Acheson says the park was developed with local skaters’ input during the year-long design phase of the project.
“The park … has over 12,500 square feet of two-tiered skating surface designed by the local skating community with facilitation by a professional skatepark designers,” Acheson says. “The local skaters primarily wanted to set it up as a street course (with elements that included) ramps, rails, picnic table, loading dock and stairs.”
A flyer presented at the park’s March 15, 2003 dedication ceremony, shows that the park, a partnership between the skating community and the cities of Camas and Washougal, cost $167,900 to design and build.
The city of Camas’ Public Works Department is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the skatepark.
Skaters who regularly use the park, including 28-year-old John Henry, one of the original skatepark advocates, say they rarely see city maintenance crews at the park.
“They don’t really do anything,” Henry says. “There used to be bushes coming out, maybe three feet into the park.”
Laidlaw’s group, not the city, cleared those bushes, the skaters say.
“It’s uncared for,” Laidlaw says of the park. “You can still have fun skating down there, don’t get me wrong, but it just seems like things — like the metal ramps — are getting thrown away instead of repaired.”
After organizing a few work parties at the park to clear away blackberry bushes and dispose of debris around the skatepark, Laidlaw approached the Camas City Council in January.
“Maybe I went about it the wrong way, but I was trying to say (to city leaders), ‘Shame on you for having your name on this park and not caring about it, for not taking care of it,'” Laidlaw says. “But I think this is really about rallying the locals and rattling the cages … to make people at the city take notice.”
Laidlaw says several city leaders in Washougal and Camas seem receptive to his group’s ideas for the park. In fact, Jerry Acheson, director of Camas’ Parks and Recreation Department, has been helping Laidlaw understand how to enact change at the city level.
“Jerry has been very helpful,” Laidlaw says. “He has been supportive from the very beginning.”
Laidlaw’s Riverside Bowl group now has more than 100 members, including about 60 youth from Camas and Washougal.
“My thinking is: if we can get the kids active in actually helping do the work and raise funds for this park, they’ll be the ones who take care of it,” Laidlaw says.
Recently, Laidlaw and members of the Riverside Bowl group have come up with a plan to renovate the park. Their proposal includes poured-concrete transitions and elements that would weather much better than metal ramps and make the skatepark more user-friendly for skaters and bikers.
Laidlaw estimates that a basic reconfiguring of the park would cost around $60,000. His group has already started fundraising on the Riverside Bowl Facebook page, and has raised more than $2,000 of their $10,000 goal. The money will flow through the nonprofit Partners with Camas Parks & Recreation group and, Laidlaw hopes, could be used as matching funds for a city grant to fund a total park-rehabilitation project.
On March 28, the group took their ideas to the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission.
“We’ve already begun to raise funds, performed much-needed maintenance in the park and have rallied a growing local support base, consisting of individuals who have expressed their willingness to donate time, resources and labor to see this come to fruition by 2020,” Laidlaw told the commissioners at the March 28 meeting. “What we need from (the commission) is for you to renew your ‘commitment to care of the park,’ as stated on the dedication plaque and your commitment to the youth who originally drove to get the park built … and (to) continue to keep it safe for the youth present today.”
Laidlaw and the skaters who regularly use the skatepark say they would love to see a community wide effort to renovate and rehabilitate the park. Soon, the skaters and bikers will start to ask community and business leaders to contribute to their park-improvement efforts.
“All of us owe it to the youth who started this project in 2001 and to future generations of kids who will grow up in these communities,” Laidlaw told the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission in March.
On the group’s Riverside Bowl page, the 53-year-old skateboarder recently posted an uplifting message to his group of mostly young skaters and BMX-style bikers: “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal,” the message says. “A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action becomes reality.”
Want to learn more about the skatepark improvement efforts, or contribute to the Riverside Bowl group’s fundraiser? Visit www.facebook.com/groups/RiversideBowl.
The park is located at the intersection of Shepherd Road and Northeast Third Avenue, near the Washougal River Greenway in Camas.