West Valley Town • Like many other sports, skateboarding often feels like attempts to defy gravity. Residents jump in the air, fall, get up and start again.
At West Valley Skatepark, this image repeats itself every time. On a quiet weekday afternoon, about 10 people are skateboarding or biking. They ride in waves in empty tubs shaped like a pool, while others wait their turn and congratulate them with whistles when a ride goes well.
It wasn’t always like that. This park wouldn’t exist without decades of advocacy by skateboarders and their allies – years, essentially, of dropping, picking up, and trying again.
No more, perhaps, than Josh Scheuerman. Raised in West Valley City by a single mother, he saw sports as an outlet. Getting a board was pretty much the only expense he had to incur to participate. He didn’t need much else to occupy himself while his mother worked twice on weekends.
But, in the 1990s, when Scheuerman was in high school, there weren’t many places to skate in West Valley City. He carved, grinded and flipped in church parking lots and store loading docks. But he and his friends were repeatedly kicked out of wherever they went skating.
“There are a lot of disadvantaged young people in the city,” Scheuerman said. “If you don’t give skaters a place to skate, they’ll skate in your mall, they’ll skate in your church.”
West Valley Skatepark is now part of Scheuerman’s legacy. It wasn’t an easy quest, but it resulted in the largest skate park in Utah, with features rarely found in other parks.
Skateboarders battled an image problem
When Scheuerman returned home from Dixie State University (soon to be Utah Tech University) in St. George, he found the same skating landscape he had left behind. There were no skate parks in West Valley City. The closest was in Taylorsville, but it had hard edges, which made it difficult to use.
It also suffered vandalism and fighting at the time, he said, painting the skating community in a bad light.
“They weren’t usually, to my knowledge, real skaters,” Scheuerman said. “Skate parks and parks in general just gravitate towards somewhere to hang out.”
In this climate, advocacy efforts for a West Valley City skate park began. While a few skaters followed their petition for months, it was Scheuerman who continued to present—for 15 years—the statistics and benefits of a skate park to city council.
Karen Lang, the new mayor of West Valley City, who served on council for part of those 15 years, said the main issue was financial.
“We just didn’t have the funds. So he got outside funding, and then we matched it,” she said. “But it took a few years to get to the point where we set aside the money to be able to do that.”
Lang now takes her grandchildren to the skate park and thinks it’s a safe space for people of all ages.
Scheuerman’s longtime friend Caleb Orton shares this belief. After growing up without many skating options in nearby West Jordan, he’s glad the next generation has a place to gather.
“The skateboarding community in Salt Lake Valley, in general, is very tight-knit. Everyone seems to be getting along right now,” Orton said. “It has been clicky in the past. But right now, it seems like everyone just has a common goal of wanting to hang out and have a good time.
What makes this park special
Maneuver after manoeuvre, and fall after fall, the city found $1.2 million to build the 31,000-square-foot park at 3189 S. 5600 West. This is an open space concrete skate park that accommodates different skill levels. It includes a keyhole (a small tunnel) that feeds into a snake track (a curved path with varying levels of height) and a pool coping, which simulates an empty pool.
Abbey Scott started skating in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and found it to be the best park to practice her beginner skills.
“West Valley is actually where I learned to skate. And that’s good because it has small features and a small adaptation,” she said. “It’s really fun for beginners, but there’s some fun advanced stuff too.”
She lives near Capitol Hill and feels comfortable skating alone at West Valley Skatepark.
“It’s kind of a road,” she said, “but it’s worth it.”
From the start, planners intended to build a fence around the park so that it could be closed off at night to prevent vandalism.
“It’s like thinking skaters are scum and problem kids.” says Scheuerman. “…It’s a big misconception – to think ‘these kids are going to be delinquents, and so we might as well build a fence preemptively to make sure we can contain them.’ And so I asked them not to build a fence. And I think that was a really good way to include the skaters and make them feel like they’re not delinquents.
Without a fence, the city has seen the community frequently use the park and work to preserve it. Except for occasional graffiti, there haven’t been many problems, said Nancy Day, director of parks and recreation for the city.
“Josh was really instrumental and guided us during the build because we were looking at it from a different perspective, because we’re not skateboarders,” Day said. “It was really invaluable for us to have his opinion and the opinion of a few others that he kind of brought together.”
The park opened in October 2016. After years of labeling skateboarding as a “problematic sport,” that sentiment has changed.
“Today it’s much more acceptable,” Day said. “You see it at the Olympics. It’s a sport, and it’s seen very differently than before.
West Valley City remains in his heart
By the time the city accepted the plan for the skate park and received funding to make it happen, Scheuerman had moved from West Valley City to Millcreek. But he did not see the evolution from afar. He often visits his mother, who still lives in the same house a few blocks from the West Valley City Family Fitness Center, where the skate park is located.
At 44, Scheuerman isn’t as connected to the skate community as he was in the early 2000s when he started pushing for the park. However, he still meets friends to skate and enjoys the features he fought so hard for. He is also still an active member of the community.
“What I’ve learned from all the years I’ve been on city council is that it actually helps to go out and engage with your city council, your leaders, your community,” he said. he declares. “If you want something, ask for it. It is important. Don’t stop asking.
Scheuerman is now a full-time artist and has painted well-known murals featuring landscape visions and graphic typography from around the state.
Besides working on the funding and design of the skate park, he also left his mark with his art. He covered utility boxes with prints of his brightly colored designs. One of them is tattooed on his arm. It’s a puzzle of a heart, highlighting the letters “WVC” and the shape of the state of Utah.
Although he has moved, his hometown and this park will never cease to be rooted in him.
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America member of the corps and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.