About six years ago, a couple dozen people gathered in a basement skate shop to talk about getting something together to build a skatepark in Ann Arbor. Those kids, parents, and skaters of every age talked about what they wanted in a skatepark, and whether or not they wanted to work toward the goal. Out of that first meeting, about a dozen volunteers formed the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee. We were unknown to most people, but went on a massive campaign to get our community to know more about skateboarding, and why a skatepark was needed in Ann Arbor.
The response was better than we expected. It seemed that everyone in the Ann Arbor area was in support of a skatepark, and were excited at the prospect. Those of us who dedicated ourselves to the building of a skatepark started the work that we hoped wouldn’t take long. We knew it would be hard, but we were committed to seeing it through.
We all agreed that if we were going to spend the time and effort needed to make a skatepark happen, we should set our goals high. We decided to not just work to get a skatepark built, but we would work to have the best possible skatepark built. We believed strongly that the Ann Arbor Skatepark should be free to use. We believed, and still do, that skateboarding is the great equalizer. Anyone with a few bucks can get into the “sport”, and that shouldn’t change once the skatepark is built. We met with City officials to discuss a partnership, and it quickly formed. Within about a year and a half we had an agreement with the City of Ann Arbor designating the location for the skatepark, and had earned unanimous support from the Park Advisory Commission, as well as the Ann Arbor City Council.
Our agreement with the City spelled out how the partnership would work, and who would be responsible for what. Our group of volunteers set out to find ways to raise the $1,000,000 that we had set as our goal. Unfortunately for us, during that same time period, the economy took a turn for the worst. This made our goals even more daunting. But, none of us gave up. We continued to volunteer our time and energy for the cause.
Over the past six years there has been a small, core group of volunteers who have made amazing things happen. While this core group worked, other incredible volunteers came in for one or two years at a time to do unbelievable things to help the cause. From putting on major skateboarding events, to securing grants worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of these volunteers don’t even skate, they simply believe that this is something that’s important for Ann Arbor, if not one of the coolest things ever.
As we worked to raise a dollar here, and ten bucks there, time was running out. The project got the most important boost when the Washtenaw County Parks Commission asked to be a part of the project. They offered $400,000 in matching funds. This was critical to us meeting our goal. Again, these were not skateboarders. These were community members who understand how positive skateboarding and a skatepark can be for our area. This matching grant gave us traction when applying for a State grant for $300,000. Because of the work of a few hard-working volunteers, that grant was approved.
With the $300,000 State grant, and the $100,000 raised by our group, the County Parks Commission approved the matching funds. This was the most amazing thing that we could have imagined happening. This wasn’t the product of wishing, hoping, begging, or waiting. The things that a handful of volunteers have achieved over the past six years could only have happened through hard work. A few dozen people have busted their humps over the last half-decade because they want to create something amazing for our community.
Once we had nearly met our financial goals, the design process began. Over the past year we’ve hired a designer, and are now in the process of working with the City and County to contract with a builder. Not just anyone can build a skatepark. Well, not just anyone can build a great skatepark. Again, our goal continues to be to build the best skatepark we can. None of us ever wanted to build “just another skatepark”. Since our goal from the beginning was to build a free, public skatepark, we became part of a community project. We don’t make all the decisions. With the help of the City and County, we’re able to help make sure that our community gets the best new park amenity that our area has seen in decades. We couldn’t have done all of this without the support of tens of thousands of people in our community. Mostly though, this has happened through the blood, sweat, and yes, tears, of volunteers who do this work because they believe it’s important.
One of the hardest things about being part of this project is seeing skaters wait and wait and wait for this thing to be built. There are kids who got excited when we first started, and they’re heading off to college now. Some of us were in our late 30s when this started, and now we’re in our mid-40s. No one wanted this skatepark built quickly more than the couple dozen volunteers in our organization who have worked tirelessly for it to happen. We all have “day” jobs, families, lives, bills, and all the other things life gives us. But, we’ve dedicated ourselves to making the Ann Arbor Skatepark happen.
As with any million dollar construction project, this one can’t be built overnight (at least, that’s what we assume; we’ve never been involved with anything like this). We appreciate the patience the community has offered as we do the work needed to make the skatepark happen. Since early this spring, we’ve worked with the City and County to get the design finalized, and to get the construction started. We’ll be building this summer. Would we have liked to have started in May? Yes. The fact is, we’ve done the work that it takes to get a 30,000 square foot skatepark built in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There’s still a ton of work to do, and the handful of volunteers who have busted their butts to get us this far are continuing to work their fingers to the bone to do what’s needed to make it happen.
We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve gotten over the years from the Washtenaw County community. We hope that everyone will continue to support the skatepark. This can be in the form of financial support, advocacy for skateboarding, or a simple, “good job” for our hard-working volunteers. Once this thing’s built, we can all hang out, skaters and non-skaters, at the coolest community meeting place in town.
Trevor Staples, President
Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark