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Let’s Build Our Kids a Safe Place to Skate and Hang Out with Friends

I met local dad, turfgrass scientist and future brewery owner Gordon Kauffman for coffee at Webster’s a couple months ago to talk about a skatepark project he was helping spearhead. He mentioned he was looking to hire some help to get the word out.

Having seen some recent headlines about it, I wanted to learn more but went to the meeting fully ready to give some advice and no more. Summer was coming and I had lots of plans.

Then I heard the pitch.

While talk of a local skate park has been around for more than 20 years, Gordon and a group of other local parents and community members started to make real progress six years ago.

In the summer of 2016, they developed a proposal for an “action sports park” and shepherded it through the intricate bureaucratic process until in 2017 the State College Borough Council voted to include it in the Capital Improvement Plan.

Video by Brad Fey

It’s hard to understate how huge of a win this is for our community. Currently, there are zero free public parks to practice BMX, skating and scootering in Centre County. Those who do skate put themselves at a high risk of accidents and injuries by practicing in the street (where it’s illegal) or on the cracked-up basketball court at Sunset Park (there is a skatepark at Tussey but it has a paid admission).

Almost all existing facilities are geared toward team sports. In 2018, a Comprehensive Recreation, Parks, and Open Space Plan prepared by Centre Region Council of Governments (COG) Steering Committee in consultation with the Centre Region Parks and Recreation (CRPR) recommended the development of an action sports park.

Fast forward to today and there’s a real urgency to deliver a project like this for the kids in our community. Many of our kids struggled during the pandemic with isolation, anxiety and depression. Constructing this skatepark would give them a place to practice their sport, have fun with friends and improve their mental and physical health.

It also fosters community and diversity. I joined some local skaters for a photoshoot and saw that age, gender, race, background didn’t matter to this group. You just needed to be out there skating, trying to get better and being supportive.

After some initial pushback from the community against locating the skatepark in Orchard Park, the committee recommended an even better place in High Point Park—a 6-acre park off of Whitehall Road, which, until my coffee with Gordon, I had never heard of.

But it’s accessible by car and bus off of Whitehall Road and a bike path. It’s less than a mile from the State College Area High School, Delta Middle and Corl Street Elementary. It is located 1.7 miles from the center of downtown.

The underutilized park is the perfect place for the 20,000-square-foot skatepark, which would take up about 3 acres where there is currently an overgrown and unused baseball field. Also, there is no lighting in the park so it is not suitable or safe for use after dark. CRPR has agreed to maintain and regularly check on the skatepark. Besides the time restrictions, the park would be open and available to all.

Then the group hit a snag. Their initial design was costly and not set up for bikers and skaters just beginning to learn.

But in 2021, Jake Johnson moved back to town and got involved. Growing up in State College in the late-1990s and early-2000s, Jake practiced skateboarding in his driveway and at out-of-town skateparks. He got so good that he became a professional skateboarder, traveling the world and skating. He was drawn back to town determined to mentor and grow the local skating community. Last year, he opened IQ Skateshop downtown and worked with his dad, Tim Johnson, Penn State landscape architect professor emeritus, on a plaza-style park that would accommodate all skill levels of BMXers and skaters.

They presented their new design to the community, which also incorporated much more landscaping to mitigate noise and make the park more eco-friendly, including native plantings, pollinator plots and a rain garden to filter the rainwater and runoff from paved surfaces. In addition, the new park design has areas and flow lines specifically designed for athletes in wheelchairs and exceeds all other ADA requirements. This plan received overwhelmingly positive feedback. 

Then Jake and the group begin working with New Line Skateparks, one of the premier skatepark designers in the world, to prepare the final technical designs and construction plans.

But that’s again when the group was confronted with a new challenge. New Line Skateparks estimated an increase in the cost of construction from $1.3 million to $1.9 million.

Undeterred, the committee raised $500,000 from DCNR and DCED grants, $200,000 from the borough and another $100,000 from local residents for a total of $800,000. They anticipate being able to bring in the rest—but only if they can prove to big donors that our community is behind the project. 

Photo by Jim Valent

Anyone working in fundraising can understand this. Big donors, like foundations, want to make sure they’re giving money to competent projects that are roundly supported by the community. It’s often why they give in the form of a match—that is, raise this much and the foundation will match it.

Therefore, the group is kicking off a fundraising campaign to raise $50,000 in small donations from the community. If a couple thousand of us all pitch in between $10 and $50, we can crush that goal and prove to these donors that we support our kids and their health.

At that point of the coffee, I told Gordon I was all in and would do it all for free. This project had already cleared the biggest hurdles and was so close to the finish line, I wanted to do whatever I could (including shamelessly using this column) to help make this project happen.

So now I turn my attention to you, dear reader. If you want to help build a safe skatepark for our kids to skate and hang out with their friends, please visit, highpointskatepark.com. If everyone who reads this sentence gives $25, we will hit our goal. Let’s make it happen!

Photo by Jim Valent