West Valley City • Like many other sports, skateboarding often looks like attempts at defying gravity. Boarders leap in the air, fall, get back up, and try again.
At West Valley Skatepark, that image repeats itself time after time. On a slow weekday afternoon, around 10 people ride skateboards or bikes. They roll by in waves in empty poollike tubs, while others wait for their turn and praise them with whistles when a trick goes well.
It wasn’t always like this. This park wouldn’t exist without decades of advocacy by skateboarders and their allies — years of, in essence, falling, getting back up and trying again.
None more so, perhaps, than Josh Scheuerman. Raised in West Valley City by a single mom, he saw the sport as an outlet. Getting a board was practically the only expense he had to make to participate. He didn’t need much else to keep himself busy while his mother worked two jobs on weekends.
But, in the 1990s, when Scheuerman was in high school, there weren’t many places to skate in West Valley City. He would carve, grind and flip at church parking lots and store loading docks. But he and his friends repeatedly were kicked out from everywhere they went skating.
“There’s a lot of underprivileged youth in the city,” Scheuerman said. “If you don’t give a place for the skaters to skate, they’re going to be skating at your mall, they’re going to be skating at your church.”
West Valley Skatepark now stands as part of Scheuerman’s legacy. It wasn’t an easy quest, but it resulted in Utah’s largest skate park, with features rarely found at 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. There weren’t any skate parks in West Valley City. The closest one was in Taylorsville, but it had hard edges, making it difficult to use.
At the time, it also endured some vandalism and fights, he said, painting the skating community in a bad light.
“It wasn’t typically, to my knowledge, actual skaters,” Scheuerman said. “Skate parks and parks in general just kind of gravitate towards a place to hang out.”
Amid this climate, advocacy efforts for a West Valley City skate park started. While a few skaters followed up with their petition for months, it was Scheuerman who continued presenting — for 15 years — statistics and benefits of a skate park to the City Council.
Karen Lang, West Valley City’s new mayor, who was a council member for some of those 15 years, said the main problem was financial.
“We just didn’t have the funds. So he got outside funds, and then we matched,” she said. “But it took a few years to be able to get to that point where we set aside the monies to be able to do that.”
Lang now takes her grandchildren to the skate park and believes it’s a safe space for people of all ages.
Caleb Orton, Scheuerman’s longtime friend, shares that belief. After growing up without many skating options in nearby West Jordan, he’s happy the next generation has a place to gather.
“The skateboard community in Salt Lake Valley, in general, is super close-knit. Everyone seems to be getting along right now,” Orton said. “It’s been cliquey in the past. But right now it seems like everyone just has a common goal of wanting to get out and have a good time.”
What makes this park special
Maneuver after maneuver and fall after fall, the city found $1.2 million to build the 31,000-square-feet park at 3189 S. 5600 West. It’s an open space, concrete skate park that accommodates different skill levels. It includes a keyhole (a small tunnel) which feeds into a snake run (a curved path with various height levels) and pool coping, which simulates an empty pool.
Abbey Scott began skating in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and found that this was the best park to practice her beginner skills.
“West Valley is actually where I learned to skate. And it’s nice because it has small features and small coping,” she said. “It’s really fun for beginners, but there’s also fun advanced stuff, too.”
She lives around Capitol Hill and feels comfortable skating alone at the West Valley Skatepark.
“It’s kind of a drive,” she said, “but it’s worth it.”
Early on, planners had intentions of building a fence around the park to be able to close it at night to prevent vandalism.
“This goes back to thinking that skaters are riffraff and problem children.” Scheuerman said. “... That’s a big misconception — thinking ‘these kids are gonna be delinquents, and so we might as well preemptively build a fence to make sure that we can contain them.’ And so I got them to not build a fence. And I think that was a really good way to include skaters and make them not feel like they are delinquents.”
Sans a fence, the city has seen that the community uses the park frequently and works to preserve it. With the exception of occasional graffiti, there haven’t been many issues, said Nancy Day, the city’s parks and recreation director.
“Josh has really been instrumental and guiding us as it was being built because we were looking at it from a different perspective, because we’re not skateboarders,” Day said. “It was really invaluable to us to have his opinion and the opinion of some others that he kind of pulled together.”
The park opened in October 2016. After years of considering skateboarding a “trouble sport,” that sentiment has shifted.
“Nowadays it’s much more acceptable,” Day said. “You see it in the Olympics. It’s a sport, and it’s viewed a lot differently than it used to be.”
West Valley City remains in his heart
By the time the city agreed to the skate park plan and received funding to make it happen, Scheuerman had moved from West Valley City to Millcreek. But he didn’t see the development from afar. He often visits his mom, who still lives in the same house a few blocks away 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. He still meets friends to skate, however, and enjoys the features for which he fought so hard. He’s also still an active member of the community.
“What I learned from all the years I was going to City Council is that it actually helps to go and engage with your city council, your leaders, your community,” he said. “If you want something, ask for it. It’s important. Don’t stop asking for it.”
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 drawings in bright colors. 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.
Though he moved away, his hometown and this park won’t ever stop being ingrained in him.
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member 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 keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.