Though the construction of Columbia County’s $1.5 million BMX track and skatepark has been a long, slow process for those anxious for the project’s completion, officials say the new facilities, located behind the stadium field at Blanchard Woods Park, are very close to opening.
But waiting hasn’t been easy.
“I just got to a point where I would go out every few weeks,” says Randy DuTeau, executive director of Columbia County’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “You go every day and you think — I don’t see anything changing. It’s kind of like the Christmas-is-coming-in-three-weeks syndrome. You just have to let it go.”
According to Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith, the park is running a few weeks behind, but it’s not alarmingly behind schedule.
“The completion date was Nov. 21,” he says. “They haven’t formally asked for an extension, but one is going to come from them, and I think it’s going to be more like Dec. 12.”
Smith says contractors still have some work to do on the BMX track’s scoring tower and starting gate, and that general landscaping still needs to be wrapped up.
“We won’t probably have a ribbon-cutting or soft opening until maybe mid- to late December,” he says.
The official grand opening is expected to be a dramatic, glitzy affair sometime in early spring. Smith says the event should include some experienced BMX riders as well as some accomplished skaters performing demonstrations. DuTeau has also stated that it’s his desire to make the opening event something memorable, especially since officials realize the idea of a county-owned BMX track and skatepark has always caused come confusion with residents, who haven’t always seen the connection between tax money and a project with such specific users.
However, both Smith and DuTeau plan to use the new venues to lure visitors and tournaments to the county.
Smith has already bid on a national BMX event he hopes to secure for the fall of 2015 and DuTeau expects to use his connections in the sports world to help promote the venues as travel destinations in themselves.
Because the track and skatepark were constructed to attract outside enthusiasts in addition to the built-in local audience, Smith says the quality of each was high.
“The skatepark is very one-of-a-kind,” he says. “I don’t think you’re going to find one that’s identical to it, and all of it was poured in place concrete. There were no prefab components in there at all.”
Designed by the acclaimed Pillar Design Studio, the skatepark has already begun captivating people.
“The design guys were riding the skatepark when we got over there one day,” DuTeau says. “They must have literally just finished, and the county guys were just sitting there watching them with their mouths on the ground. These guys were just owning the park and I was thinking — well, if you build it, you’ve got to own it, right?”
DuTeau says that everyone who has seen pictures of the park or has gone out to see it in person has come away thoroughly impressed, and though Smith has heard the same thing, he says some of the more informed opinions have been formed a tad prematurely.
“They slip out there and use it, which is not right to do, I guess, because it’s still in the hands of the construction company,” he says. “We have caught people on it at night. They just won’t heed the signs. We have signs up, but I think we need to put up more signs to keep them off of it.”
But now that both venues are nearly complete, patience is in short supply, both for the excited public and the eager officials who are anxious to start marketing them.
“It’s not just one new toy, it’s two new toys,” DuTeau says. “How cool is that?”