Murray Hill local looks to increase skating opportunities

Murray Hill local looks to increase skating opportunities
Conner Pumphrey shows off the skateboard he bought locally.

After 4:30 p.m., the Mary Lena Gibbs Community Center, located in Sweetwater and not far from the Lakeshore neighborhood, gets busy when skaters of all ages come out, crowding the basketball area, which thanks to the efforts of local skater Conner Pumphrey, now sports brightly colored obstacles for people to navigate on their skateboards.

A couple of years ago, Pumphrey helped get the skateboard obstacles installed at the center and near a church on Beaver Street in the LaVilla neighborhood, and now he’s thinking about trying to get others installed in other areas of the city. He’s spent months working with City of Jacksonville staff, former District 14 Councilman Jim Love, and Riverside Avondale Preservation members. That was more than two years ago, and now, he’s prepared to pursue a similar path again.

“I think I’m going to put in some new requests to get more installed by some other council folks, so I’ll be putting together some new proposals,” he wrote in an email.  The skate spots aren’t meant to be full-blown skate parks, but instead offer less-expensive pieces of equipment that allow skaters to use their boards for more than just coasting along a level surface.

“A skate park is like a putt-putt course,” Pumphrey explained. “This is like putting one hole in every neighborhood.”

Bud Campbell, coach for SOS Academy, which is located at the same site, said he initially was skeptical about the installation, but he’s come around.

“I didn’t want nothing to do with it,” Campbell said. “But now, it’s cool. You have guys coming from all over, age 45 on down to babies. One guy told me he was from Orange Park, another from Atlantic Boulevard, so that’s a good thing.”

Pumphrey got involved in the project because he likes to stay involved in his community, he said. “I always like trying to have a hand in the neighborhood because this is where I grew up. I’m an avid skater. If I had one truth about my life, that’s the one thing I can guarantee, that much I know.”

He started skating when he was 11 and when his first skateboard “looked like something from the ‘80s, like one of those big cruiser boards from the Ninja Turtle movies,” he said, describing a big banana-shaped board with bright pink wheels. “The graphics were rats in dumpsters and slime and garbage cans – just a little grungy.” Now, he coasts on a board from Block Skate Supply in Springfield.

He wants to propose pieces that are the same size as those currently installed but that are more abstract, and he wants them to be spread throughout the city.

“You can plop them throughout neighborhoods and communities versus having one skatepark dedicated to the northside, or other neighborhoods,” he explained. “They are smaller, cheaper, easier to say yes to, don’t need a lot of funding. They are picnic-table sizes … nothing that is astronomically huge. I think the biggest piece that’s over at the Beaver Street/LaVilla neighborhood, is 14 feet long, 2 feet wide and 2-and-a-half-feet tall. It’s more like skateable art pieces instead of the big skate (parks) that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This just gives every neighborhood kid a place to skate in their neighborhood.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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