Roanoke Skatepark Initiative

Interview by Rebekah Hertzberg
Issue 56 • October 2017 • Roanoke

This nonprofit is all about bringing skate culture to their community—through DIY publications, hosting events, and big dreams of establishing a permanent skate park.

Above: Photo by Lynn Kingery

Roanoke Skatepark Initiative isn’t your run of the mill nonprofit organization and might, at first, seem a dream deferred. But after speaking at length with Founder and Executive Director Keri Garnett, one can’t help but recognize its community involvement as impressive and its ultimate goal as anything but unattainable. What began in 2015 as a small community meeting of around 30 people at the CoLab coworking space has since blossomed into an imminent organization that not only supports skate culture, but invigorates the community.

Keri Garnett | Photo by Jason Garnett

“I want the immediate community to know that skateboarding exists,” Garnett said. “I mean, skateboarding is a sport that’s full of passion and dedication. It fosters independence and determination and willpower and a sense of community that a lot of kids don’t get through team sports. A lot of children don’t have resources or even family members that are supportive of them, and they find this community within skateboarding and other skaters that they maybe don’t have elsewhere.”

Roanoke Skatepark Initiative has hosted multiple events in the area, all of which have contributed to the impact of this organization and added to the community’s cultural dynamic. Garnett described some of the cultural events the group has helped organize: “We’ve had several art shows; we created a video for our efforts which had a lot of involvement from different people; we’ve had some music shows—we’ve had just different events, and I think all of those things add to the quilt of what’s going on in Roanoke.”

This month, they will continue their community event presence at the Anthem GO Outside Festival, affectionately known as GO Fest. Garnett explained, “GO Fest is a huge outdoor festival celebrating all outdoorsy things in Roanoke.” Last year, Roanoke Skatepark Initiative occupied Reserve Avenue where they “set up ramps and rails and everything and had just a big skate jam.” On October 14, the organization will return in a similar capacity at River’s Edge.

This month also marks the release of the inaugural issue of Full Bleed, a zine published by Roanoke Skatepark Initiative. The zine will “focus on the creative aspect of skateboarding” because “a lot of skateboarders are writers, artists, musicians, but also a lot of people that support skateboarding are those things, so we just wanted it to be a community project.” Garnett’s plans are to have the zine published on a quarterly basis.

DIY publications like zines, big in the punk rock and riot grrrl eras, have the capacity to reach individuals in personal, innovative ways. Garnett admits that she got the idea for a zine from a then local skateboarder who, this past May during the organization’s art show No Comply, “sent us a huge package of all of these original skate zines from the Roanoke Valley from the late 80s and early 90s. We flipped through them and it was just like this wave of nostalgia and just passion. It really felt like this is what skate culture is, you know, people coming together and collaborating and showing off and being proud of being a skateboarder instead of being ashamed or getting flagged for it.” Garnett decided that “it would be a different way to reach people, to have people know what we’re doing.”

Driven by her own history with skateboarding and zine enthusiasm, along with that of her husband and close comrades, Garnett has been rallying the community for a concrete skatepark designed specifically for skateboard use. The organization has raised $20,000 in funds to contribute to a new skatepark in Roanoke. In regards to working with city officials, Garnett said, “Roanoke has been super, super receptive from day one.”

Garnett’s own demeanor and her passion for the organization’s mission is inspiring and impressive. “The ultimate goal is actually just to support and promote skateboarding in Roanoke,” Garnett said. The organization has succeeded in doing so on multiple levels, so much so that the gears continue to turn. As for the next steps with the skatepark, a meeting is scheduled this month with the developers that built the skatepark in Bedford. As Garnett explained, there is still a lot to sort out, but they are happy with their current progress. In her words, “We’re not sure how much we need yet because we need to get the drawings and everything rendered up, and at that point, we’ll figure out where we are financially, how much we need, how much the city will contribute.” From her perspective, though, the biggest obstacle has already been overcome: convincing the city that this is a worthwhile project for their community.

Photo by William Sellari

Learn more about the Roanoke Skatepark Initiative at roaskate.org. Donations toward the proposed skatepark can be made at gofundme.com/roaskate. See them in action on October 14 at GO Fest, full schedule at roanokegofest.com.

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