Walton Skate Park Complete and Immediately Popular
July 21, 2020 by Kurt Lischka
I checked out the completed park the other day and there were a lot of people already hanging out and enjoying the new addition to Helen McCall Park. The dream of Walton Skate Society has become reality, through the hard work and fundraising of the group and our community. Walton County Skate Park is at Helen McCall Park south of US 98 and just west of Hwy 393 in Santa Rosa Beach.
The dream for a skatepark was initially shared by a local group of surfers and began way back in 2005. They were Surfrider Foundation members who came to realize that though the Gulf waters are often warm and welcoming, surf is not always available. Bobby Johnson, Michael Sturdivant, Phill McDonald, and Nick Gullo came together with a shared interest in our local surf-skate culture. Together, they started what became a community movement for preserving and growing our local culture. Ultimately, that movement would result in the birth of a public skate park.
Initially, the plan for the park was rather simple - a dedicated space with a few transitions and ramps. Interestingly the area in Helen McCall Park just between HWY 98 and CR393 has always been slated for a skatepark from the early days. The land was there, but the skatepark funding remained elusive. The project had its share of fits and starts, but after the BP debacle, the project experienced a big push from both Walton county and community proponents. People realized that our community depends almost entirely upon the beach for our recreation and that we needed an alternative to surfing and other beach activities.
Over the next few years, the economy improved. The skatepark visionaries skated, they worked, they surfed, and they quietly continued to dream about building a skatepark.
Then, in 2015, the flame was re-sparked. Realizing that dreams alone will never pour concrete, Michael Sturdivant called together people in the area who had a shared interest in skating. Most importantly, he gathered people with the long term vision and skills that could see such a challenging project through. The group needed a name. Frank Berté proposed calling the group the Walton Skate Society - a name that shouts “we shred” -but also, “we do so with an artistic flair and a nod to the preservation of our community’s beach culture.”
The Walton Skate Society started meeting every Tuesday at Johnny McTighe’s Irish Pub on 30A in Blue Mountain Beach. They rolled in the 2015 Seaside Christmas Parade. This new skate “Society” supercharged the dream and developed the very earliest concept of what the park could look like. They then set out to realize that vision through very creative fundraising. Observing how much they all loved painting and customizing their own boards, they developed the concept for a first massive fundraising event. It was called Sk8 Deck’O. Little did they know, the event would have a profound impact on the cause.
Before the Sk8 Deck’O event, they had the land for the park and a matching $30,000 grant from the county. In other words, if they could make $30,000 fundraising, Walton County would match those funds. What started as a loose concept of having local artists custom paint decks for auction soon exploded into something amazing. Flyers were brought to all of the area schools - sounding a call to arms for the skatepark. The original concept of professionally painted - grew. Blank decks for the event were sold to students, stores, and individuals who custom painted the boards for a ticketed raffle at the event. This put the cause out to more people and companies that wanted to help. The Walton Skate Society reached out to Tony Hawk, who make a donation of a signed board and schwag for the art auction. Local artists worked tirelessly, not only painting the boards but cutting them up and sculpting them, fiberglassing them, painting them, and more. In the trenches and on the ground, local kids spread the word. The event was a massive success both financially and for the shear word of mouth.
Netting almost $27,000 in that single night, the “Society” secured the original $30k in matching funds. Struck by the outpouring of support and attendance of the event, Commissioner Cindy Meadows secured an additional $20k from the county. So, in that one night, the project had a clean $80k in the bank - but the story was far from over. In 2017 the event was hosted again at Trebeaché (Now Red Fish Taco) on 30A and raised close to $15k, but the full plans for the park called for well over $500,000. Plans for completing the full park would have to be realized in stages, or so they thought.
In 2018 the park project was sent out for bids, and meetings were hosted to try to define exactly what elements would be featured in the park and considerations for what and when were dictated by the funds. They had roughly 20% of the total cost but were hoping to break ground on stage one of the park to include a small snake run and mini bowl. Many debates were had as to whether it was smarter to just continue fundraising for the full amount or to break ground in phases. This continued for the better part of 18 months until local surfer, and restauranteur Dave Rauschkolb got word of the park. Astounded that the park had not been completed with funds from the county, he took his concerns to current South Walton Commissioner Anderson. He encouraged him to fund the park in full rather than continue to seek funds from moms, dads, and children.
Finally, in the fall of 2019, at the first Walton County commission meeting in September the motion passed, in a triumphant victory, all County Commissioners voted unanimously to complete the park in its entirety. It’s been a long time coming, but soon residents, visitors, surfers, and skaters will be able to enjoy a tiny slice of Hellen McCall Park on HYW 98 at 393 - and you can too!
The narrow shape of the land granted to the park has thoroughly informed the design layout. Starting from higher ground on the west side, the park offers a gently sloped snake run that starts just below the good flowing pool/bowl with a 3-5 foot vert. Various surfaces, rails, banks, funboxes, and more are placed along the run are accessible along the long flat south side edge. Plans for an onsite shop are even in the works. If that happens, paintable customizable boards won’t be far behind, who knows maybe Skate Deck’O can happen every day.
The Walton Skate Society’s Skate Park will ultimately provide a radically entertaining location to locals and visitors alike. Skaters of all skill levels and very much the public at large will benefit from having it here. It meets the needs of the local community, producing a safe place for people to relax and have fun.