Andrew Mangum is 15 and practically fearless with a skateboard. Even though rain bombarded the city for the better part of two days, Mangum pounced on his board in the mostly dark Roosevelt Square parking lot where Greenbelt's mayor has watched cars nearly thwack skateboarders more than a dozen times in recent years. Emulating a stunt he saw on an MTV daredevil show, Mangum tried to glide down the slick pavement on a board without wheels.
Although there's no common name for Mangum's move, the skateboarders' trick of civic activism that persuaded Greenbelt to agree to spend $60,000 on a skate park is a time-honored practice for getting things done in this New Deal-era community.
After years of ignoring a ban on skateboarding in Greenbelt and enduring slings and arrows from the community -- "skateboarders always get hassled," Mangum fumed -- Greenbelt-area skaters rolled up their sleeves and organized a group called Skateboards, Wheels and Trucks (SWAT) to bolster the skaters' political leverage with the community and raise money for a skate park. ("Trucks" refers to the wheel mountings on skateboards.)
The result is a new skate park to be built by June near city tennis courts, where skateboarders had previously roamed -- to the dismay of tennis players.
John Rogers of the Greenbelt Police Department rallied skateboarders and served as their liaison with local businesses and residents, helping the SWAT team raise more than $5,300 for a skateboard park. SWAT then merged with parents and supporters of the movement to form a 40-member group of skateboarder activists in the summer called the Skateboarding Association. The joint organization persuaded the city to build a park.
Greenbelt Mayor Judith F. Davis said that residents had been proposing a skate park since before she joined the City Council 11 years ago, and that the issue just never went away.
"I guess everybody thought it was a fad," Davis said of the sport's popularity in the 1980s and '90s. But skateboarders endured, spilling into the next generation.
The city allocated money for the park when the council approved the budget June 10. The council has yet to officially endorse the project, but expects to do so at its Dec. 16 meeting.
"The city will build the park, but the feeling is that the recreation department won't have all their ducks in a row until the December meeting," City Clerk Kathleen Gallagher said.
The tradition of skateboarding where it is prohibited is nothing new to Greenbelt or the area. For many Washington area communities, the growing popularity of skateboarding, especially among boys ages 12 to 18, has led to more complaints to authorities from residents tired of shooing them away from their driveways, parking lots, streets and sidewalks.
The conflicts and complaints have prompted some communities to build municipal skateboard parks. Rockville and Gaithersburg erected parks for board and in-line skaters, and communities in St. Mary's and Charles counties are planning similar parks.
Greenbelt skateboarders' search for a smooth surface took them to the back two tennis courts at Braden Field, now the proposed site for the park.
The courts, infrequently used by tennis players except during tournaments, offered a long ramp, a net to ollie (jump) over and benches for grinders (in which a skater slides down the narrow edge of a surface). The tennis players said the skaters scuffed the courts and dented the benches. And they hated the noise.
Now tennis enthusiasts face the prospect of the much louder noise of ramps, music and a higher concentration of young people.
"It's a waste of money to build a park for three people. It's the same three people. It's a tremendous waste of space," Ernst Balzer of the Greenbelt Tennis Association said.
The split in thinking about the skateboarders is evident with Balzer, and his wife Muriel, the president of the Greenbelt Tennis Association. Muriel Balzer recommended the two courts for the park and defended skateboarders against some reluctant members.
"They're teenage boys, not criminals. They're not as polished as they could be, but they're not out robbing people. Rather than saying you can't skateboard on the courts, why not meet them halfway? Let them skate on those courts, since they've already damaged them," Muriel said.
Bunny Fitzgerald, a member and former chairwoman of the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, said her group was in favor of the park. "It is something we find interesting and worthwhile."
But, for the most part, its popularity is strongest among teenagers such as Brandon Dwyer, 15, who can't wait for the park and who pushed the city to consider charging non-residents much more than residents to use the park.
Fees and hours have not yet been established for the park, which will require a staff to work the register and enforce safety measures, according to Davis. Skateboarders will have to sign a waiver and wear helmets and pads to use the facility.
City government moves too slowly for Mangum, who attended the recent meeting to pick a site, but said he will be more enthusiastic when he sees the actual park.
"It's not here. When they build it," he said, "then I'll be excited."
A sign forbidding skateboards, among other things, at the tennis courts has been rendered into gibberish by vandals.