Marvin “Doc” Cheatham wants to know what he’s supposed to tell kids in West Baltimore, specifically Easterwood, a neighborhood the 72-year-old has spent his entire life in.
The community activist pursued the idea of bringing a skate park to Easterwood in 2013 after he encountered children in Hampden that traveled from Easterwood to the skate park. Kids in some parts of the city, he said, have to travel long distances on their skateboards to skate parks in Carroll Park, Hampden, Jake’s Skatepark in South Baltimore or Charmcity Skatepark near Brewers Hill. Easterwood borders Sandtown-Winchester and Coppin Heights.
“I’ve given my life to this community to do better for our children,” Cheatham said.
In 2018, he teamed up with Stephanie Murdock, president of the nonprofit Skatepark of Baltimore, which helped with improvements to a Hampden skate park in 2016. Together, Murdock and Cheatham have been trying to get another skate park built in the city, receiving an initial $5,000 donation from The Skatepark Project, formerly known as the Tony Hawk Foundation.
Baltimore City’s Department of Recreation and Parks started a design process to add between 6,000 and 10,000 square feet of new skate features to Easterwood Park, and it seemed plans were in motion.
But the city and Sen. Antonio Hayes say a new plan will provide “overall improvements” to the park and will exclude construction of a concrete skate park. Without legislative support and additional funding, there are no plans to move forward with construction of the skate park, wrote Tierra Brown, chief of marketing communications for the parks department, in an email. The change has left skate park advocates like Murdock and Cheatham frustrated and concerned about whether it will ever get built.
The city allocated $300,000 for the design of the skate park in 2020, Brown said in an email. Two years later, the city allocated an additional $350,000 along with a $500,000 grant from the state for improvements to the park. But, the $500,000 grant was “approved with the stipulation to exclude construction of the skatepark,” according to Brown.
Hayes, Brown added, placed the stipulation on the funding “expressing that the desire of the community was for the overall improvements of the park and not the development of the skatepark.”
Any money not used for the design of the skate park will be applied to the overall improvements to the park.
Hayes explained in a text message Tuesday evening that his objections to the skatepark were a reflection of concerns from his constituents and that other areas of the park need work.
“Many of the facilities currently at the location, including the recreation center, need repair. This funding affords the opportunity to make improvements throughout the park,” he said.
In an earlier interview, Hayes said the skate park is not completely off the table and that they do provide great recreational opportunities, but advocates for the skate park need to be patient and consider everyone’s thoughts about the project.
“I would encourage them to respect the desires of people that live in these communities,” Hayes said.
The redirection of funds, Murdock said, comes as a surprise to her since she has worked closely on this project and thought everything was in place to move forward. A 2021 Baltimore Sun article included confirmation from Larissa Torres, a parks project manager, that the project was fully funded and out for bids.
“I don’t feel like I can roll over and let this happen. They owe the community an explanation,” Murdock said.
She wrote Hayes an email in July to request a meeting and an explanation. Hayes told her that he and his team had two community meetings with residents where it was explained that now is not a good time for a skate park in Easterwood given the vulnerabilities of the area. In an interview with The Baltimore Banner, Hayes said open-air drug markets and a concentration of vacant homes are already a neighborhood concern. Questions about appropriate supervision at the skate park, he said, have also come up in conversations with residents.
He said, in the email to Murdock, the plan without the skate park allows for “improvements of the entire park” and “enables enhancements to multi-generational families in the community.”
Among those enhancements are a new playground, new and expanded pathways, resurfaced basketball courts, a new fitness circuit, improvements to the entrance of the park and a new fence along North Bentalou Street, Brown said.
Chrissy “Sosii” Brown, a skateboarder born and raised in West Baltimore, said she thinks it’s unfair that plans for the skate park have halted. As a teenager in the Ashburton area, she traveled at least three miles to meet friends in Hampden before an official skate park was put there. Or, she said, she’d use the bus or subway and her skateboard to go downtown to Charmcity Skatepark, an indoor facility with fees to skate. Brown, 28, thinks there’s a stigma about skateboarding that tries to exclude certain people and places. There are deeper values and connections embedded in the sport, she said.
“Skateboarding is a very validating activity and sport. It builds character ... you learn how to deal with failure and rejection,” she said.
Cheatham and Murdock said they’ve spent years bringing awareness to the skate park, performing community engagement, providing free skate equipment and even worked with Bikemore and the parks department to bring a pump track to Easterwood Park in 2019 for people to skate or learn. Cheatham said the community is “very neglected,” and a skate park provides a chance for equitable recreation since most skate parks are often found in predominantly white neighborhoods.
“We’re saying this would be an uplift to our community,” Cheatham said.