Hamilton skatepark nears fundraising goal

The plans are in the works for what will be the largest skatepark in the Bitterroot Valley at Hamilton’s Claudia Driscoll Park.

It’s been a long time coming.

“We’re on Evergreen’s build schedule for late summer,” said Circle 13 Skatepark’s Bryan Dufresne. “It’s going to happen for sure. Now we’re just waiting to see how big it’s going to be.”

Last week, the park grew by quite a lot with a $45,000 donation from the Montana Skatepark Association On-Deck Auction.

“That absolutely blew my mind,” Dufresne said. “I thought maybe we would get $15,000 to $20,000 from them. When they called to let me know the amount, I was just ecstatic… It made me feel like this was going to really happen. We’ve seen such an outpouring from so many wonderful philanthropists. We’re getting people to finally believe.”

Dufresne and others have been working toward building a skate park in Hamilton for over a decade now.

“It’s been way too long,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome to finally put a lid on it.”

The fundraising effort isn’t quite complete.

So far a little over $250,000 has been raised toward the goal of $300,000 for construction of the 13,000-square-foot skate park. When it’s completed, Hamilton’s skatepark will be the largest in the Bitterroot Valley, which already features nice facilities in Stevensville and Darby.

“It’s going to be a destination park for sure,” said Ray Smith of Stevensville.

Smith was the main driver behind the fundraising effort that brought a skate park to Stevensville a few years ago.

“The park in Stevensville is always being used,” Smith said. “I saw the transition after it opened. At first there were a bunch of kids with scooters, but now it’s almost all skateboards. It’s really great to see how much it gets used. Skate parks are truly a great addition to any community.”

Chris Bacon of the Montana Skatepark Association said Montana is fortunate to have so many skate parks scattered throughout the state. In large part that’s a testament to Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament, who has offered financial support to nearly all of the parks.

“A lot of it’s Jeff and a lot of it is us too,” Bacon said. “But, at its core, it’s communities getting on board and taking the time to form an organization that rolls up its sleeves and gets the elbow grease out. That’s what it really takes for the most part. The community has to be involved to make it work.”

Bacon guesses that there are about 40 skate parks in the state.

“I think if you looked at it per capita and considered the size of our state, I think we would definitely be on the upper end for sure,” Bacon said.

Bacon owns the Missoula skateboard shop, Board of Missoula. He’s seen Montana become a destination for skateboarding companies looking for new locations to do demos or film. And he’s seen the families from across the country who seek out the skatepark gems in any number of communities.

“Montana gets tons of tourism from it,” he said. “There are lots of people who plan parts of their vacations around places that have skate parks. We see skate crews coming through all the time.

“And then there are those families who might be on their way to Glacier or Yellowstone who have a kid who likes to skate. They’ll seek out those skate parks, too.”

Bacon said he was “really excited’’ for Hamilton.

“Hamilton is kind of like the hub of the Bitterroot,’’ he said. “Bitterroot kids are just like any other kids in Montana. It’s hard for them to get out of town. Kids from Darby to Florence are going to come to Hamilton to check out the new park.”

It’s not just skateboarders who are having fun.

Toni Clark and Nora Cassens have worked together to create their own fundraiser for the skate park that includes one of their favorite ways to travel.

Clark said she and Cassens went on a motorcycle poker run last year and decided that they could come up with something even better.

On July 14, the two will host the first-ever Thunder in the Root Motorcycle Scavenger Hunt. All the proceeds will be donated toward construction of the new skate park.

Riders will spend a day touring the area and collecting raffle tickets by taking photos of various sites. The event will conclude with a party at Claudia Driscoll Park with music by KB and the Willies, food trucks, beer and hard cider.

“We don’t know how many will show up this first year,” Clark said. “We’re hoping that it will be something that will just keep growing every year to benefit the skate park. There are a lot of fun things to do in the summer here, but we don’t have any motorcycle events.

“We do now,” she said.

Dufresne hopes that he’ll have plans in hand in the next couple of weeks so people can get an idea of just how grand the skate park will be.

“It’s going to have a good street element with ledges, rails and stairs. And then tons of rolling transition that Evergreen is known for,” he said. “Jeff Ament likes to design the central bowl. I’m sure it will be incredible… The kids are starting to get excited. When the design comes in, this community will explode with interest.

“Every dollar that we get now will make the park just that much bigger and better,” Dufresne said.