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Hamilton's Circle 13 Skatepark

Eight-year-old Lily Dufresne takes a spin around Hamilton's new skatepark, which officially opened to the public on Thanksgiving.

Sometimes really good things come to those who are willing to wait.

Anyone needing some visual evidence of that just needs to step up on the edge of Hamilton’s recently completed Circle 13 Skatepark at Claudia Driscoll Park.

The undulating wave of concrete that dips into deep bowls and rolls over gentle mounds looks like a piece of art.

“There’s definitely a lot of terrain in there to explore,” said Tom Kresan, one of the original board members of the Circle 13 organization, which has worked for nearly a decade to turn this park from idea to reality.

“From the beginning, we were looking at a 13,000-square-foot park, but once you actually get out there and start rolling around a bit, you soon come to the understanding that there is a plethora of potential lines that exist,” Kresan said.

“The coolest thing is that it’s designed in such a way that it provides a continuum of experience that will accommodate all skill levels,” Kresan said. “It’s like a sculpture that is going to add a whole new experience to Hamilton.”

The board hosted a soft opening of the $300,000 skatepark for the public Thursday. Sometime in spring or early summer, there will be a grand opening once the area is landscaped and ready for the crowds.

Until then, the hope is those anxious to begin learning the lines of the new park will do their best to keep mud and rocks off the concrete that’s been a labor of love for so many.

Bryan Dufresne said none of it would have been possible without thousands of hours of volunteered time by dedicated individuals and a community that pulled together and opened up their pocketbooks to offer donations ranging from a couple of dollars to thousands.

Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament helped kick start the project with a $100,000 matching donation and Bill Watkins of the Discovery Care Center matched donations up to $50,000.

“This park is gigantic,” Durfresne said. “I think it’s really unique, especially with the little street element ... There have been thousands of hours invested in this over the years. Along with being insanely excited, I think there’s also an overwhelming sense of relief that it’s finally done. It’s hard to put into words just how challenging it’s been.”

Kresan is a little fuzzy on the exact timeline on when Thad Widmer and he first began talking with people about the idea of building a destination skatepark in Hamilton. The idea has been brewing for a least a decade.

“I’ve kind of lost track,” he said. “For quite a while, it was just myself and Thad and the whole idea was held together with bailing twine, rubber bands and duct tape. We held meetings to try to get people on board on why this was a good project for Hamilton.”

Some of those first meetings happened in Kresan’s living room. When they moved to the town’s Bedford building, there weren’t many who showed up initially. Eventually, the idea caught some traction after others in the community raised their hands and offered to serve on the newly formed Circle 13 Skatepark board.

“At first, we really didn’t know what we were doing,” Kresan said. “We were clear on the vision of creating a destination skatepark, but the mechanics of getting there required a steep learning curve.”

Kresan initially served as the board’s chair before passing that baton to Dufresne a few years back.

Once the city of Hamilton offered the site at Claudia Driscoll Park and the fundraising effort was buoyed by Ament and Watkins, the town finally began to believe that this time it was for real.

“The donations came in all different forms,” Kresan said. “Sometimes it was 10 bucks from Joey down the street and other times it was $1,000 from a local business.”

On Facebook, Dufresne handed out “skate hugs” to those who helped financially.

Hamilton’s park is the third constructed by Billy and Catherine Coulon’s Evergreen Skateparks in the Bitterroot Valley.

Catherine Coulon said the evolution of the company’s style is definitely evident at the Hamilton park.

“On every park that we build, we try to outdo the last one,” Coulon said. “We take what we’ve learned from other projects and refine that.”

Hamilton was the beneficiary of the fact that the company had built its two largest parks to date over the last two years.

“My husband does the majority of the design work,” she said. “It has to look a certain way for him to be happy with it. Nothing can be haphazard … They end up looking like a sculpture, a rideable art project. I can promise you that people who drive by will have to stop. They will want to take a look at it.”

Coulon is also certain that Hamilton’s park, along with the skateparks in Stevensville and Darby, will attract skaters from long distances.

“Skaters love to travel and try out new parks,” she said. “That’s the coolest thing about these parks. They are free. Anyone can go there. You don’t need a team. You don’t need a uniform. All you need is a skateboard.”

Montana has a variety of skateparks in towns both large and small. The state can thank Ament for that.

“All of the parks in Montana are there primarily because of Jeff Ament,” Coulon said. “He kicks down a large sum of money to kick start the larger ones and he’s paid for some of the smaller parks.

"Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are. The state of Montana certainly wouldn’t have nearly as many parks as it does now.”

The work on Hamilton’s skatepark wrapped up on the day before Thanksgiving. Coulon said she and her husband joined members of the crew to test it out.

“Billy and I have a house in Stevensville,” she said. “We didn’t get as much time as we would have liked because of the holiday, but it was fantastic. The whole track has something for everyone. It’s definitely going to be something that people are really going to enjoy.

“I know for sure that we’ll be back,” Coulon said. “It’s going to be wonderful having this in our backyard.”

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.