City, state move against bike, skateboard courses

Austin Boris of Mount Pleasant performs a trick at the makeshift skateboard park under Interstate 26 between Huger and Romney Streets in downtown Charleston.

Charleston’s efforts to remove its homeless encampment already has affected those who go there just for fun.

A makeshift BMX bike course was removed recently along with other debris from the state’s first cleanup of the so-called Tent City, and state and city officials also are eyeing a similar skateboard park under Interstate 26.

The concrete overpasses where I-26 joins the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge have been home to a growing number of homeless, about 100 of whom have pitched tents and welcomed donations from an informal network of volunteers. Last week, Mayor John Tecklenburg announced a plan to clear it gradually within the next two months, while helping those there find better homes.

But that work also has shined a light on others who informally claimed space here for recreational use.

The S.C. Department of Transportation already has cleared earthen berms, railroad ties and other material that formed a makeshift BMX bike course — a course discovered during initial work to remove Tent City.

Robert Clark, DOT District 6 engineering administrator, said the course was a concern for two reasons, one of which was that the berms had altered drainage to the existing retention ponds.

“We don’t want the drainage messed up and cause problems for the surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. “There also were things in there that people could hurt themselves on, and we had to watch our liability.”

Liability also looms as a key concern as the city and state decide what to do with a skateboard park created under the interstate just north of Huger Street.

Parker LeClaire, who uses the park, said, “There is a huge pit in a lot of people’s stomachs about fear of the park being destroyed, considering its the only thing in the downtown area that you can go to skate without being hassled by the police and security.”

Unlike the relatively recent BMX course, the skateboard park has evolved for several years.

It includes ramps, bowls and benches made from plywood, concrete and bricks on smooth concrete slabs — and its ever-evolving layout has been part of its appeal to the city’s skateboard community with few other places to go.

The makeshift skateboard site, which some call “DIY park,” was formed partly of frustration after the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission gave up plans to build a large-scale skate park there.

The city began examining the skatepark as it focused attention on the neighboring Tent City, and both its legal staff and Parks Department are assessing it, city spokesman Jack O’Toole said Friday.

The city, which has had an agreement with the state for a linear park on this property since 1976, would like to see the “DIY park” remain open until the new skatepark in the Neck Area is completed later this year, provided it’s safe and there’s limited liability to city taxpayers, O’Toole said, adding that the city might reach a conclusion on that soon.

While both the BMX course and skateboard park show the desirability of recreational use under the overpasses, it has proven difficult to make permanent, permitted improvements there.

The county’s plans for a skateboard park there collapsed largely because the county had a hard time getting federal and state permission, commission Executive Director Tom O’Rourke said.

He said the county was told the park’s surfaces would have had to withstand the weight of any large vehicle that might need to repair the overpasses eventually — and that it must address flooding issues on neighboring land because of all the new concrete. The estimated costs — and questions — kept rising.

“It appeared, at least to me, that as we jumped over one hurdle there was another six-month hurdle waiting for us,” O’Rourke said.

The county currently is building a new park, SK8 Charleston, on a site at 1549 Oceanic St. — about a mile north of the makeshift skatepark — and expects to open it later this year.

But even with that park, skateboard enthusiasts interviewed last year said they hope the “DIY park” remains.

Willis Oksen, 21, a College of Charleston student, praised its high-quality ramps in a December interview, adding, “Whoever did it knew what they were doing.”

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.