Cradling his skateboard in his hands, Darby sixth grader Will Martin is keeping a close eye on one of the teachers from his school.
It’s not because he’s interested in learning some more math or science or anything from a book.
On this warm June morning, the young man with a superman insignia on his chest wants to know how to shred.
Darby High School’s Dean of Students Brian Dufresne is showing how it’s done on the perfectly-poured concrete at Darby’s brand-new skatepark.
“This is an amazing place,” Martin said. “It’s a fun and enjoyable place where you can come and meet your friends to hang out. It gives you something to do.”
That’s been a common theme amongst the members of the new skate club that Dufrense helped organize a couple of weeks ago after the skatepark officially opened in Darby.
“The kids have been ecstatic,” he said. “We all can’t believe how fast it came together. It was fun to watch all of these kids come over after school and talk to the guys who were building it.”
The new skatepark in Darby was a pleasant surprise for that community.
In April the town’s mayor received a phone call from Evergreen Skateparks. They told the mayor that a large project had just fallen through and, if Darby could move quickly, the company could renovate the existing skatepark.
The best news was there were donors already lined up to pay for everything.
The news that Darby would get a skatepark so unexpectedly was somewhat bittersweet for the core group of people in Hamilton who have been working for more than a decade to build one in that community.
“We’re all happy that this happened in Darby,” Dufresne said. “We’re hoping that Hamilton is next.”
Dufresne is the president of the Circle 13 organization that hopes the momentum is finally right to make that final push to get a skatepark in Hamilton.
Pearl Jam’s bass player, Jeff Ament, recently increased his pledge to provide a matching grant from $60,000 to $100,000. Bill Watkins of the Discovery Care Center has offered a $50,000 matching grant.
“Every dollar that we raise up to $50,000 turns into three,” Dufrense said.
Dufrense knows from experience how important it is for young people to have a place to go for skateboarding. He grew up in Stevensville and was asked to leave just about every piece of pavement that town had to offer during his childhood.
Stevensville built its own skatepark, with the help of Ament and Watkins, in 2015.
“We have skateparks on both sides of us now,” Dufresne said. “It seems like it’s Hamilton’s turn.”
The owner of the Evergreen Skateparks told Dufresne that Hamilton was “light years ahead of the rest of the country” in terms of getting that accomplished.
The city and county came together to offer a half acre on edge of the fairgrounds in 2016, but it initially came with the requirement that the group had to build a parking lot, bathrooms and provide lighting.
That additional infrastructure drove up the costs to the point the group was challenged to obtain any grant funding.
Recently, the county has agreed to allow the use of facilities at the fairgrounds and eliminate the need for an additional bathroom.
“That was a game changer,” Dufresne said.
But a recent vote by city residents to purchase the old National Guard Armory and Claudia Driscoll Park could end up being the turning point that actually propels the project forward.
The Circle 13 group met with the Hamilton city council to ask it to consider placing the skatepark on those newly acquired city park lands.
Dufresne said it would be a better fit for the community and far more family friendly.
If the skatepark was built at Claudia Driscoll Park, families would be able to allow their younger children to enjoy the established playground while older kids make use of the skatepark.
“With all the adults around that area all the time, it will provide for a safer environment for the kids who use the park,” he said.
Dufresne said a number of people told the council that they already drive to Stevensville to take advantage of that very same setup at that community’s park.
The city council could decide on Circle 13’s proposal at its next meeting on June 13 at 7 p.m. If people are unable to attend, but want to offer input, they can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. They need to put “Skate Park Letter for Council and Mayor” in the subject line.
The group hopes to build a 13,000-square-foot skatepark, which is a little bigger than Stevensville’s and smaller than Missoula’s.
Dufrense said the estimated cost is $370,000. Serious fundraising efforts will get underway this summer.
“We are feeling pretty confident that we can raise what we need now,” he said. “The changes made by the city cut the cost almost in half.”
Once other organizations that offer grants for this type of project can see momentum, they’re more likely to help, Dufresne said.
“They like to be able to see a build date and a finish date,” he said. “That’s something we haven’t had in the past.”
Twenty years ago, people started talking about building a skatepark at Claudia Driscoll Park.
A decade ago, there was a sign on the property that said “let’s put the skatepark here,” Dufresne said. “Back then, the city didn’t own the property, but they do now. Now we just have to wait and see what happens.”