It’s gaining a reputation as one of the best indoor BMX/skate parks in the country. But those checking out The Hangar near Denver Baptist Church get a dose of something larger than big air.

Back around 2007 the church purchased 60 acres of land across the road from its main campus. That property included a large hangar that was previously used by a modular home manufacturing company. The next year members began the process to clean it out and build ramps for skateboarders and BMX riders.

Denver lies northwest of Charlotte, which holds a heavy BMX presence. Word soon got out about the indoor park outside of the city. It didn’t quite catch on as hoped, however, due mainly to the skill level required to navigate the ramps. In the meantime, the rest of the warehouse served as storage for disaster relief equipment belonging to North Carolina Baptist Men.

Michael Salanik arrived at Denver Baptist as student pastor in 2014 and immediately saw the potential when he looked inside the building.

“I thought, ‘Wow. This is awesome,’” Salanik said. “I’d never gotten into BMX or skateboarding but knew having all of that space and equipment together was rare. So I wanted to open it back up, and the church said to go for it.”

More ramps were added to the 15 or so already there. Church members pitched in to install turf and a court that could be used for basketball and volleyball. The Hangar now includes other games like ping pong and gaga ball as well as a concession stand. The Disaster Relief equipment has since been relocated.

It was supposed to be unveiled in April 2020, but COVID-19 delayed those plans. Nevertheless, later that year a team of riders from major bike manufacturer Mongoose swung through and added The Hangar to its list of top spots to ride in the Carolinas. That group included Olympic Bronze medalist Nikita Ducarroz and X Games veteran Mykel Larrin.

“Arriving at the Denver park felt like I was stepping back into my childhood,” Larrin said. “With an early 2000s Midwest park flavor, it was so much fun getting to play around with some of the lines and flow of the place. Definitely a hidden gem!”

It was a clear signal the church’s work had paid off.

“You don’t know what you have until you have five pro riders walk in and say ‘Whoa!’” Salanik said.

Fictional BMX legend Cru Jones made an appearance recently, sort of, when The Hangar screened the 1986 movie Rad. Fans of the film from Charlotte loaned a Corvette and Blazer with two mounted Mongoose bicycles from the movie – all signed by the cast – to the church for display.

Because of the delay from COVID-19, it was only recently that The Hangar began to become what many felt it could be. It’s a place to hang out, have fun and sharpen your skills, but also somewhere you can grow in your relationship with Christ.

Kyle Holcombe appreciated The Hangar as a place where he and his son, Hunter, could bond over their love for BMX. Kyle had lost time during a stint in prison brought about by drug-related charges. Upon his release, the two tried out different riding parks before discovering The Hangar.

He loved the ramps. The devotionals by Salanik and others, not so much.

“I grew up in a Southern Baptist family and we went to church all the time, read the Bible every day,” Holcombe said. “But when I turned 16 or 17, I ran from it.”

That led him to a bad crowd and worse decisions. An indifference, even bitterness, toward God took root. At The Hangar, Holcombe began to soften toward the message.

Michael Salanik, student pastor at Denver Baptist Church, gives a devotional on a Friday night when The Hangar is open for free to the community.

“Michael didn’t treat [BMXers and skateboarders] like stereotypes,” he said. “But if I brought up something he didn’t agree with, he’d say he wasn’t co-signing on that. He was like a sponsor in [Narcotics Anonymous]. He just kept it real. If I wanted him to tell me something to make me feel better that wasn’t Jesus-oriented, he wouldn’t do that.

“I started to build a trust in him and open up to him more [about Christ]. The pilot light was lit again.”

Holcombe has since been baptized and is being discipled. “My convictions have changed and are becoming stronger. I’m slowly giving away those fleshly things and submitting them to the Lord,” he said.

On Tuesday through Thursdays, The Hangar is open to the community from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. for $5. Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. are reserved for the skatepark only for those over 16. Friday Family Nights are free from 6-9 p.m.

“The mission of the church is to take the gospel out to the community,” Salanik said. “But sometimes God gives these great opportunities for the community to come to you.

“It’s been awesome to see what God has done. We have constant gospel conversations and relationships are being built. We want people to get plugged in and know about Jesus.”

by Scott Barkley, national correspondent, Baptist Press