Local skate park on the way

By Michelle Pope
STAR STAFF
mpope@starhq.com

   In a culture where extreme sports are growing ever-present, you often see snowboarders outnumbering skiers on the slopes, people roller-blading while "walking" the dog, and the never-ending quest for "air".
   Michael Largent wants to make that quest achievable for Carter County residents. Spearheading the effort to have a skate park built, Largent is dedicated to the semi-new sport of mountainboarding, an off-terrain version of skateboarding, and is on a mission to build a place to accommodate all the 'boarders, bicyclists, roller skaters and bladers out there, and whoever else may discover a new way to use wheels.
   "Mainly, you go around, and you can see all these kids with nothing to do. I've seen kids doing drugs because they don't have anything better to do. It's also bad for the community," Largent said. "Then you go to Johnson City, and there's forty or fifty kids crammed in a small skate park."
   After an effort to build a park several years ago by a company called Ground Zero floundered, Largent took the idea and ran, or boarded, with it. He and his team of competitive mountainboarders, Team Underline, are working with the city council and Elizabethton Parks and Recreation to make the idea a reality.
   "So far we're doing pretty well," Largent said. "They (Parks and Rec) know all the steps. We have community, city, and county support. We're looking into getting funds and donations."
   Largent said the project has been in the works for six or eight months, but has only begun to progress rapidly in the last two months. Aside from planning the park, Team Underline has been working to create interest in the sports that will benefit from the skate park, mainly mountainboarding and skateboarding.
   A mountainboard, which is basically a skateboard that isn't limited to flat surfaces, is a sport that developed in the early 90's by two snowboarders who didn't want to wait for winter. Team Underline, a non-profit competitive mountainboarding team, has been visiting schools and skate parks, offering free demos and teaching people how to ride.
   Largent and team co-founder David Whitehead, along with riders Daniel Fleenor, John Bates and others, travel to competitions to compete against other mountainboarders, mostly in North Carolina. At the East Coast Championships, Largent has won second place two years in a row in the qualified professional division, while Whitehead took third in amateurs. The team has a website at www.underline.freeservers.com.
   Largent's interest in the sport was born at a competition he attended with friends, when several of the pro riders taught him to compete on the amateur level. Largent entered that day and won first place.
   "We've pretty much put the team competition on the back burner for now. We're using the team to push the park," Largent explained.
   Guided by an organization focused on developing skate parks, found at www.skatepark.org, Largent will be designing the actual layout of the park. He is planning a Hershey's fundraiser and has secured a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation for $15,000. Largent is also working to find insurance for the park.
   The next step for Largent and his crew is to find a piece of land to build the park on. They are currently considering several places, but ideally, the park will be built between Stoney Creek and Elizabethton city limits.
   "Johnson City is the closest legal place (now)," Largent said. "They have two places; the Science Hill park and a little place called the Rock. They are very limited to where they can go. It's not just kids. I've seen adults in their 30's out there."
   Largent hopes to have the park finished by early spring, but said it could take as long as summer to actually have it open.
   "There's a lot of little steps in between," he said. "It's a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end."