Skateparks: Where Graffiti is Affecting Community Advancement

The patrons of the skatepark in San Marcos, TX, have been dealing with park closures in recent years due to individuals spray painting the obstacles at the skatepark. 

The community of skateboarding represents a diverse pool of people ranging from various cultures, genders, races, and ages. The overall culture of skateboarding has shifted negative biases of society’s view on the sport; it has become a social activity that improves peoples’ mental and physical well-being.

Source: Beyond the Board Findings from the Field

The community at San Marcos skatepark has helped many people, from college students to locals, feel accepted and heard. Community advancement at the skatepark is being affected due to the city of San Marcos closing the skatepark every couple of months to remove the graffiti. 

When the skatepark opened in 2007, there was little to no graffiti thanks to a volunteer skatepark task force (now split up) as well as a strong community dynamic based around Texas Skate, a skateboard shop that ran from 2008 to 2020. San Marcos community enhancement initiatives manager, Amy Thomaides, was part of the original skatepark task force with her skater kids and has watched the skatepark change over the years. “I started with the city community enhancement in 2013, and 2015 is when the graffiti got really bad,” Thomaides said. The community enhancement team deals with graffiti, illegal signs, and illegal dumping, all within the city limits of San Marcos. There is also a small force of park rangers and police who patrol the skatepark, but rarely catch any vandals in the act due to the amount of public parks in San Marcos they have to patrol.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, graffiti at the skatepark and in the city limits of San Marcos increased dramatically and has stayed at a similar level since. “We saw natural spikes at the beginning of summer and the fall semester, but graffiti increased all over town as well as the skatepark during COVID-19,” Thomaides said.

A large factor that attributes to the lack of accountability to the skatepark’s well-being can be directed to Texas Skate Shop closing in March 2020 due to the owner, Cody Hobbs, passing away. “Cody set up all of the skateboarding events and was a father figure to the skateboarders in town, so when he passed away it was a big hit to the skateboarding community,” Thomaides said. Texas Skate and the people closest to it would help set up contests, video premieres, and hangouts. Many San Marcos skateboarders’ have explained how much has changed over the last 2 years, such as more graffiti, more trash, from even the on site porta potty being set on fire.

Many of the local skateboarders seem to be divided on the issue, but the reality is that the locals rarely see the taggers in action. Even with this divided opinion over graffiti, all of the skateboarders share frustration about the park closing from 4-5 days at a time every couple of months. “When it comes to having to abate the graffiti situation, we use a material called elephant snot to remove the graffiti and it’s not safe to have around people,” Thomaides said. 

The city informs the patrons of skatepark closures, and gives addresses to the other small skate spots they have built around town, such as Dunbar Park, which features small ramps, ledges, and rails. Skate culture as a whole is known for its opposition of societal norms and rebellious mindset against authority. The city has experimented with putting up signs and trying to connect with skateboard culture, which often backfires.

Isaac Holloway is one of the local skateboarders who has seen the change over the years and finds himself frequently frustrated at how people treat the park. “Without the tight scene here anymore, we get a lot of new faces and people from out of town,” Holloway said. “I think the skate shop created a more bonded community that looked out for each other and really wanted to create a positive and fun image for the San Marcos skate scene.”

A Texas State University student and skateboarder, Quinn O’connell, started coming to the skatepark after the closure of Texas Skate and the influx of park closures from graffiti. Skateboarders who skate the street side aren’t as affected from the slippery graffiti surfaces since most of the tagging is done on the bowls in the back of the park. “I prefer skateboarding the street sections but when the skatepark is closed, I like to skate waxed ledges and manual pads around town,” O’connell said. “There are also many skateparks in the area that I go to which offer different types of obstacles, which gives me new ways to skate.”

The skaters have worries that the park could close permanently, but Thomaides has spoken with the city. “Based off what the parks department told me, the skatepark and dog park are the most used parks year-round,” Thomaides said. Many of the skateboarders have expressed how the skatepark is like their second home so the city wants to maintain it. The community enhancement team used to only visit the skatepark once a year but are now doing a weekly check to try to keep the park in order.

Many solutions have been discussed to try to curb the amount of graffiti, such as a graffiti wall. “Trying to find most ideal location for graffiti wall and it not spreading nearby is a challenge,” Thomaides said. With the skatepark located right next to the library, the city is brainstorming ways to minimize the overflow of vandalism to other structures near by. Thomaides also helped create the keep San Marcos beautiful city initiative, which seeks to “efficiently use our resources within city departments, as well as partnerships with organizations and individuals to advocate for a cleaner and healthier city. By working as one, we can improve the environment in which we all live, work, and play.”

With a resilient skatepark community and help from city resources that are being used effectively, many patrons of the park seem to have hope at maintaining a healthy community dynamic.

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