The formerly abandoned, sprawling asphalt lot located off Capital Boulevard heading into downtown doesn’t look like much right now. But in a few weeks, new ramps and curbs could draw dozens of skateboarders to the area.

The Conlon Family Skatepark—a 2.5-acre space for skateboarders, BMX bikers, and roller skaters to gather—is the creation of Raleigh residents Stephen Mangano, an entrepreneur, and Cody Charland, a marketing professional. Each has children who skateboard, and Charland is a longtime skateboarder himself, although he uses skateboarding more as a means of transportation these days, he says. 

Credit: Brett Villena

Together, Mangano and Charland formed Skate Raleigh, a nonprofit designed to advocate for the construction of a larger, permanent skate park in the city. The temporary Conlon Family Skatepark is named for a local family that is the park’s primary donor. 

“Really, I’m thinking about my two sons,” Charland says. “I don’t want them to grow up without the right skate facilities, us having to drive to Durham or Cary. We have enough space downtown that we can do this. It’s just up to us to make it happen.” 

Raleigh has a large skate community, Charland adds. Multiple pro skaters have come out of the area, including Reggie Barnes, who competed in the 1980s and now owns a skateboard company headquartered in North Carolina. For all those skaters, though, there’s only one skate park—Marsh Creek Park on New Hope Road—currently in Raleigh, a city of half a million people, Charland says. 

“Skaters are having to skate in unsafe places because there is nowhere else to go,” he says. “That’s why people make DIY skate parks.”

In addition to housing, grocery stores, and other critical infrastructure, “Raleigh needs places of belonging,” Charland says. Kids and teenagers used to gather on the baseball field, he says. Now, the city needs new “third places” where adolescents can go. 

Mangano agrees. 

“More than ever, kids of all ages need a way to connect,” he says. “In skate parks, there’s a ton of diversity … from gender, from race, from a socioeconomic standpoint … so kids can come together. It’s a very supportive environment.”

Credit: From left to right: Claire Ashby, Ed Marsden, Stephen Mangano, Natty, and Cody Charland. Photo by Brett Villena

Skating has other benefits, Mangano says. It’s different from team sports, where kids might be grouped together by neighborhood or school. Skating has more cross-community interaction. The sport is also still very “kid-driven and approachable” as opposed to other sports that have become “adultized,” he argues. 

In skating, “everybody’s supporting each other to get that next trick. And you’re advancing individually. You’re really pushing yourself against yourself.”

For years, public officials and city planners have looked at skateboarders as an undesirable element. Police across the country have stopped kids from skateboarding in parking lots, accusing them of loitering, and confiscated skateboards from people rolling down sidewalks. Urban amenities are designed to keep skateboarders away. Today, however, attitudes are changing. 

Stephen Bentley, director of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department, says he’s excited about exploring opportunities to create safe public spaces for people to skate. He says he’s seen parks directors in other cities oversee the construction of massive skate park complexes and recognizes they’re meeting a need that is also present in Raleigh. 

The Conlon Family Skatepark is an important first step toward creating additional, permanent places to skate in Raleigh, Bentley says. The skate park, located on 14 acres of city-owned land, is expected to have to close in two years to make way for Smoky Hollow Park (formerly Devereux Meadow Park). 

Construction on Smoky Hollow Park is expected to begin in 2025, but in the meantime, as Raleigh officials finalize the park design and finish the permitting process, skaters will have a central place in the city to go. In the department’s upcoming development of its long-term plan, staff will also talk to the skate community about creating permanent skating locations, Bentley says.

“Let’s engage the skaters on the vision for skating in Raleigh,” he says. “How can we use this [project] to gain momentum, to replicate it somewhere else?”

Charland’s vision for Raleigh is a city that has “dots, spots, and parks” for skating. In addition to a large regional skate park with half-pipes, bowls, and rails, Charland hopes to see smaller skating spots incorporated across the city. 

“That means [skating in] really small corners of parks, spots that are unattended or underutilized in cities. Then, we’re gonna create designated skateable places within existing parks,” Charland says. “We want to ultimately create, if not a big regional park, more support for Marsh Creek [skate park]. We want to be able to create destination parks for skaters and skating.”

For now, Charland and Mangano are simply looking forward to opening the Conlon Family Skatepark in June. The park is “plaza style,” Mangano says, which means it is made up mostly of basic features skaters could find on the street. 

That means it’s also more accessible for beginner and intermediate skaters, who may be intimidated by the steep drops at Marsh Creek, Mangano says. The plan includes a rail, a set of stairs, and box jumps. Mangano says he hopes to eventually add a quarter-pipe and other “BMX-type jumps.” Most of the elements are designed to be movable, so they can be relocated to a new skate park once Conlon closes. 

Credit: A rendering of the Raleigh Skatepark. Courtesy of Skate Raleigh

“The idea is just to give the kids a safe place to skate and hang out and practice action sports,” Mangano says. “And ultimately, [I hope] it attracts more kids to the sport and it builds momentum toward something bigger and better. 

“[The skate park] supports families, it supports the community, it supports creativity,” Mangano adds. “Hopefully, we’ll have DJs out there and roller skating nights. Bringing the community together is truly the purpose.”

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