After nearly two decades of serving as a youth recreation center and a cornerstone of the Taneytown community for avid skaters, the skate park at 210 Carroll Heights Road was overdue for an update, according to city Parks & Recreation Director Lorena Vaccare.
The park will be closed for construction until late April while new features are installed, including a BMX cycling pump track, stairs, rails, two quarter pipes, updated signage, and a plaque memorializing the life of Steven Walton, a well-loved Taneytown skater who died in a car crash at the age of 20 on Sept. 28, 2018.
“The mere fact that people remember him and continue to remember him – I couldn’t ask for a bigger gesture, to be quite honest,” said Walton’s mother, Christie Courie, 51, who now lives in Adkins, Texas.
Vaccare said she listened to feedback at every step of the process from more than 100 local skaters, and the Steven Walton memorial was among the top things they wanted included in the project. A plaque depicting him inscribed with quotes that evoke his memory will be installed near the park’s new staircase.
The skate park rehabilitation is projected to cost $195,000, with more than $136,000 paid for by a Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Community Parks & Playgrounds grant and more than $58,000 matched by the city of Taneytown, which is supported in part by park impact fees.
Vaccare said that the type of grant funding paying for the skate park is highly competitive because it is open to all municipalities in Maryland.
“This rehab project is going to enable more people to use this park safely,” Vaccare said.
The cost of the plaque honoring Walton was about $1,000, with approximately 10% covered by donations and the rest paid for by Courie and her husband.
Walton’s mother, who commissioned the plaque soon after her son’s passing, said the skate park is the most fitting place for the memorial.
Walton lived in Taneytown for several years, attending ninth and 10th grades at Francis Scott Key High School, although his mother was a Taneytown resident for nearly a decade. Courie’s son visited Taneytown often while living with his father, and she said his magnetic personality earned him many fast friends at the skate park.
For Taneytown resident Jordan McCauley, 28, his relationship with Walton “was like an instant brother connection,” he said.
McCauley immediately took Walton under his wing. He said he admired and looked up to his friend for the way he looked out for others. By all accounts, Walton was the kind of kid that stood up to bullies and called out peer pressure whenever he noticed another skater was uncomfortable.
“I can’t even put it into words, honestly,” McCauley said, “Steven was so genuine. It didn’t matter what different stereotypes there were, he was friends with everybody. He was the kind of person where even though he was super good, he still helped the people that weren’t; he was almost like a teacher to them.”
Walton’s younger stepbrother, Anthony Courie, now 22, idolized him when they were young, Christie Courie said, and Walton always made him feel included. At the celebration of life service for Walton, Courie learned that her son checked in on and brought food to a friend who was forced to live in a shed for a period of time.
“There were just so many people that knew him,” Courie said, “so many people’s lives that he had touched.”
Walton was pouring his heart and soul into skateboarding before the age of 10, Courie said.
The skate park was within walking distance from Walton’s residence in Taneytown, and McCauley said he and Walton would spend entire days skating and talking about life. The two were both highly competitive and would push each other to learn tricks they saw in YouTube videos.
Courie said Walton had an easy time grasping the basics of any physical activity and also excelled at soccer and gymnastics, although skating was his favorite.
“He was one of those kids that when he put his heart into something, he accomplished it and went overboard with it,and skateboarding was his love,” Courie said.
Before the crash, Walton was a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he was attending with the help of a scholarship granted to him by his father’s service in the Marines. Courie said he was interested in studying literature and would have made a great teacher based on how good he was with kids.
“Whenever he would go to the park and he would see little kids trying to start skating, he would always trying to step in and help about give them pointers,” Courie said. “That was his gift.”
Walton wanted nothing more than to be a famous skateboarder, Courie said, and a set of steps is the perfect tribute to her late son because they were his favorite and he could easily jump 12 or more of them on his skateboard.
Walton was killed in a highway crash on the way home from Alabama. He was coming back as a surprise to McCauley.
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“I’m trying to tell myself that he’s in Alabama,” McCauley said. “I haven’t fully accepted it.”
The number of Walton’s friends who made the trek from Taneytown to Birmingham for his celebration of life speaks volumes to the impact he had on Carroll County, Courie said. Walton’s ashes were spread near the Taneytown skate park in a ceremony that included McCauley and others.
Walton would have loved the new skate park, McCauley said, recalling how he and his friend would build their own skate park obstacles out of plywood and whatever they could find on days when they grew tired of the worn-out Taneytown park fixtures.
The park’s new features are likely to draw skaters to Taneytown from far and wide, which should be a boon for tourism in the city, Vaccare said. A good dirt pump track for BMX-style cycling can be hard to find and is expected to be a draw for bikers while also making the park less bike-crowded for skaters.
Vaccare added that skate jams and competitive events that engage the skating community and their families are also on the horizon for the renovated park.