New skate park donated to Lopez

Shawn's grandfather's English cutter, The Elmira
— image credit: Contributed photo/ Shawn O'Day

by Sarah Rabel

Special to the Sounder

Shawn O’Day has visited Lopez Island every summer of his life, at first with his mother and grandfather on a 36-foot English cutter.

“One of my fondest childhood memories is coming into the channel every summer and seeing the reef netters,” Shawn said.

As Shawn and his mother continued this annual tradition, his love of the Friendly  Isle grew.

“I’d often take the dinghy with my mom out to the entrance of Fisherman Bay. When the Land Bank bought the land there,” he said, “I was very excited, very relieved that it would be preserved for generations to come.”

Now he is preparing to make memories for island kids by donating a fully new Lopez skate park with a product that is derived from nearly 100 percent recycled paper.

On Aug. 17, the new park will officially open with a celebration event on Lopez Island.

As the third generation in his family business, Shawn – now president – knows about preserving a legacy.

George Baum, his grandfather, started Rainier Plywood in Tacoma in 1943, known now as Richlite.

Shawn “paid his dues” as a teenager, doing truly bottom-level tasks of cleaning  dumpsters and storm drains. When he was hired full time to work the floor in 1981, the company produced 12 rolls per month – now 150 rolls per month.

That said, he has no assumptions that his children will join the company. He simply wants them to follow their passions as he did.

Through the years, Shawn has seen many changes on Lopez, including the current skate park.

“When I saw the park going in 10 years ago, saw it was our surface being used, I thought wow, this is exciting,” he said.

Flash forward to August 2012, when Shawn and his Scottie dog, Kona, took the first step in what became “a very organic process.”

He walked into the Lopez Center for Community and the Arts and told Robert Harrison and Janet Baltzer that he wanted to donate materials and construction volunteers to the skate park.

Not knowing Shawn, they were unsure what to make of the situation.

“It was quite an experience to have a stranger offer a massive donation to the community; it was even more amazing when it became clear that Shawn was serious,” said Robert.

Back home, Shawn received a similar response from Richlite’s Marketing Director Don Atkinson, who said, “Donating a skate park is a major undertaking – the planning and the financing of it. At first, I thought Shawn was joking.”

A month later, Shawn told Don that not only would they donate a new skate park but that they would hold their annual distributor’s meeting on Lopez.

To make this big event go smoothly, Shawn has talked at length with the Lopez Fire Department, the ferry system, the County Parks Department, his folks and California RampWorks.

When asked what his grandfather would think, Shawn said, “George would’ve embraced this. Part of this is that it’s our 70th anniversary, and I wanted to shift focus back to one of our older markets – Skatelite.”

For more information about the skate park, visit

Rabel and her husband, both supporters of the new park, have lived on Lopez for five years and have two sons.Their 9-year-old looks forward to having a new place to skate.


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