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As Midtown skatepark removed ahead of schedule, community rallies to relocate ramps

The park, revitalized by skateboarders, was located under the U.S. Highway 53 overpass for nearly 20 years.

Largely empty area under a freeway.
The former skatepark at Midtown Park sits almost entirely empty Wednesday after being disassembled for the Twin Ports Interchange Project.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A single quarter-pipe ramp is what remains of Midtown Park’s skatepark after its deconstruction Saturday, Oct. 22.

Located under an overpass of U.S. Highway 53 — included in the Interstate 35 and I-535 Twin Ports Interchange Project — the community-built skatepark was ordered by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to be disassembled almost five years earlier than anticipated, according to a statement released by the city. The section passing over Midtown Park is now scheduled to undergo construction from the end of 2022 until 2025.

“We’re scrambling,” Damage Boardshop co-owner Ben Olson said.

Skateboarder on a half pipe.
A group of skateboarders wait their turn as Joe Remark skates the halfpipe at Midtown Park in 2009.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Revitalizing Midtown Park — part of the local skateboarding community for nearly two decades — has been one of the shop’s most notable endeavors.

The park has been used for skateboarding for over 17 years, but, according to Olson, it has also been under threat of removal since before the interchange construction began.

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The park started as a smooth tennis court where skaters would find flat-ground refuge under the overpass from Minnesota’s elements. In 2005, Damage Boardshop reached out to TrueRide , a community-based project that functions to rebuild and establish skateboarding ramps in under-utilized areas.

Residents are learning how to integrate electric bikes and scooters, introduced to Duluth in 2019, into city life.

The joint effort led Midtown Park to become a well-known recreational destination for skateboarders, scooter riders and even motocross bicyclists thanks to upkeep and equipment installation provided by the skateboarding community and the Damage Boardshop crew.

However, rather than the expected 18-month notice to remove features of the park, the shop received 30 days from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Skateboarder.
Erik Howard, of Duluth, skateboards on the mini-ramp at Midtown Park in 2015.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

“With Encounter closing, there are two less vital skateparks now than there were when I moved to Duluth. Both spots are where we went during rain and snow,” said Caitlin Larson, a skateboarder and University of Minnesota Duluth student. The Encounter Youth Center, an indoor skatepark at 201 E. First St. operated by Head of the Lakes Youth for Christ, permanently closed this year.

Features of the Midtown skatepark included rails, boxes, ramps, ledges and one of the few halfpipes in Duluth.

“Midtown is where I learned how to drop in on my skateboard. I really hope we can get the halfpipe back up soon,” Larson said.

The St. Louis County Board approved the $250,000 measure as part of its focus on delivering projects aimed at children and families.

Being involved with the park and its features since day one, Olson remains optimistic about the long-term opportunities presented by the expedited removal.

In collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the city’s parks and recreation department, the shop was able to quickly deconstruct and move the equipment. The three entities also are formulating a plan to re-pave Keene Creek Park in early November and move the equipment there.

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“The goal is to get everything from Midtown there. It's looking pretty promising as of right now,” Olson said.

Related Topics: DULUTHOUTDOORS RECREATION
Peyton Haug is a former intern reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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