BELEN—Noah Baca started skateboarding only a year and a half ago, and in that time, he’s learned a few tricks, gained valuable confidence and has made new friends.
“I just thought it was cool,” Baca said of the sport. “I saw other people skating on YouTube and wanted to try it out.”
The Peralta Elementary School fourth-grader said the first time his parents took him to the skate park in Belen, he was a little nervous but those jitters soon went away.
“It was actually pretty fun and I got to meet new friends,” said the 10 year old. “That’s the beauty of the skate park — you get to meet new friends and learn new stuff.”
One of the first friends Baca met was Dylan Jimenez, who has made it his mission to encourage and inspire the youth of Belen. Jimenez has been skateboarding on and off since he was 8 years old, when his brothers introduced him to the sport.
“We used to take it all out into the streets, until city officials started to get upset with us over skating every where in town,” Jimenez said. “That’s when some of the older guys got together and fought to get a skate park built. They first got it set up in the parking lot at city hall.”
Wanting something bigger and better, the local skaters fought harder for a better facility, which was eventually built at Eagle Park in about 2004. While the facility’s equipment and design wasn’t what they skaters wanted, it was something.
“We were appreciative because we had somewhere to go,” Jimenez said. “It benefited us because it kept us off the streets. We did ask for a lot more but it was never given.”
Nearly two decades later, Jimenez, along with other skaters and several parents, have petitioned the city of Belen to improve and expand the skate park.
The skate park currently has several ramps, a few of rails and a couple of curbs for skateboarders, bicyclists and those on scooters to use.
“We want to make this park as big as we can,” Jimenez said. “Belen is a beautiful place and has a lot of love and character. We’re wanting to build a half pipe, and maybe extend more concrete for street-type skating.”
Stella Torres, who has been bringing her son, Alex, to the skate park for years, was one of the first parents to address the city council several months ago.
“I wanted to bring attention to this park,” Torres said. “A lot of kids come and enjoy the park, and there’s a lot of parents here supervising. It needs a lot of upgrades.
“I want all the parks to be improved, to be maintained. There’s so much more they can do to this park.”
Baca’s mother, Audra Gallegos-Baca, agrees.
“The ramps need to be updated and they need to make sure the equipment is safe,” Gallegos-Baca said.
The two also hope the hours at the skate park can be extended to 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., and want the city to install lighting.
City officials are listening and have allocated some funding toward the skate park. Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said when the city experienced a recent windfall of gross receipts taxes, the city manager and finance director allowed each councilor and the mayor to use $10,000 each to a project of their choice.
In the end, $25,000 has been budgeted for skate park improvements, the mayor said.
“That money will be used for upkeep and improvements,” Cordova said. “On top of that, we hope to receive funding from the state Legislature.”
The Legislature recently approved $746,000 in capital outlay funding for improvements at Eagle Park, but the city is waiting on final approval from the governor. The mayor said a portion of that funding would go toward improvements at the skate park.
When asked what he wants to see at the skate park, Cordova said he’s leaving those details to those who use the facility.
“I’m leaving it up to the skaters to tell us what they need,” the mayor said. “At the most basic level, they want improved seating and lighting, and additional ramps and rails.”
Cordova met with the skaters a couple of times and described them as “an awesome group of kids.”
“They’re looking for things to do in Belen, and they care an awful lot for their space,” Cordova said.
Torres said the skate park is so much more than just concrete and ramps. It’s a place where friendships are formed.
“When my son was little, the older kids took them under their wing,” Torres said. “They can get intimidated, especially if they’re young or not as good. They have such a bond with each other, and with us.”
Jimenez makes it a point to be at the skate park nearly every day, saying he enjoys the exercise but more so the relationships he’s made with other skaters.
“As more of us came together, that’s when parents would show up with their children and we’d involve them with us,” Jimenez said. “We’d tell them not to be shy and we’d help them.
“I have a loving heart for these kids. I want to see a future for them, and I want them to have options. I want to see them have fun.
“We don’t have a lot here in Belen, so getting as many kids to be a part of this family is everything.”
Jimenez said their goal is to have an alcohol and drug-free skate park, and a state-of-the-art facility for the youth. The sport of skateboarding, he says, offers much more than just exercise.
“Skating teaches kids a lot of lessons,” he said. “It teaches you to take on pain whenever you fall; it teaches you to get back up. The people who skate encourages each other to get better and we never let each other fail. That’s what they can take out in the real world.”
For Baca, skateboarding and the friends he’s made has been extremely helpful, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He’s developed a bond with these kids — a camaraderie, much like siblings,” Baca-Gallegos said. “He came out here not knowing how to push or how to do any tricks. The older kids just help him. They’re calm, they’re kind, they’re generous and they’re compassionate.
“I want the town to know that just because they have tattoos or dress a different way, they have the biggest hearts. As a mom and a teacher, what we see here is just amazing.”
Baca-Gallegos said Jimenez was one of the first friends her son made. He stopped what he was doing and gave Baca lessons and took his time with him.
“When these kids get here, they can just be themselves,” Jimenez said. “I like to teach them, especially if I don’t know them. I’ll go up to them and try and make them feel comfortable and let them know I’m here for them. I just want to help them.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.