The city of Roanoke is scheduled to begin to replace the Depression-era Wasena Bridge this fall.
The project comes as the bridge reaches the end of its usability, and construction will continue for two and a half years. The section of the greenway under the bridge will be detoured, and the road on top will be closed for a while (although not for the full duration of construction), but underneath the bridge lies another community feature that won’t return — the skate park.
During construction, the greenway will be closed from the parking lot adjoining the playground, along a 1/2 mile section to the intersection with Wiley Drive/Winona Avenue, according to the city's plan. During the closure, users will be detoured through the parking lot and then along Winchester Avenue, Main Street, and Winona Avenue, returning to the Greenway at Wiley Drive. Closure of this entire section of the greenway within Wasena Park will enable bridge construction to be completed more quickly.
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The Wasena skate park, a fixture for 18 years, currently contains ramps, boxes, and railings, along with a new halfpipe constructed in 2020. On a given day, skateboarders and people on bikes, scooters, and rollerblades can be found attempting tricks and hanging out nestled under the rumble of overhead traffic.
But the construction will bring with it the destruction of Roanoke’s only public skate spot. And the change has been a long time coming — many of the plywood ramps have been falling apart for years and were not constructed for long-term use.
So where can skateboarders go this fall? Roanoke’s Parks and Recreation plans to move the new halfpipes down the river, but has not yet announced a location. The rest of the old park will go down with the bridge.
The construction won’t spell the end for public skating in the region. There are skate parks in Salem, Christiansburg, Blacksburg, and Rocky Mount. And skaters often make their own spots, such as the recently moved Flying Panther Skate Shop off of Shenandoah Avenue.
Beyond that, Roanoke City has allocated one million dollars in funding for the construction of a new skate park, which would replace the old one in the same spot and begin after the bridge building concludes, estimated to be in 2024.
The plans for the new skatepark, from a feasibility study conducted in 2018, showcase features requested by skaters and may include a stair/bank combination with Hubba ledges, a bank to curb, a nipple, a fun box with a grind ledge, a planter gap, a radial ledge, a quarter pipe extension, and a set back radial wall. The park’s concepts were made by Pillar Design Studios, a prolific design and build firm specializing in skate parks.
The study shows citizens wanted accessibility and competition-level construction, distinct places for differing levels, and other amenities – such as lighting, shade, restrooms, and parking, – that would make the park more attractive than it is now.
Michael Clark, director of Roanoke Parks and Recreation, said the city is “committed to providing high quality amenities.”
The need for a new skate park has been known for years, he said, but it consistently ranked low on the master plan’s updates. It was only thanks to a “concerted effort from the skateboarding community” that made it eligible for public funding ahead of other projects.
The Roanoke Skatepark Initiative in particular spearheaded the plan’s momentum.
The Initiative, established in 2015, came about with the overall goal of promoting skateboarding in the Roanoke area and the main goal of getting a newer, better skatepark. That effort ultimately landed the project on the docket for the city and built up a skating community by hosting and promoting local skating events along the way.