On Deck

The Whitefish Skatepark Association is in the final phase of fundraising to expand the Dave Olseth Memorial Skatepark, set to break ground this summer, and local skateboarders plan to bring the same opportunity to Columbia Falls

By Micah Drew
Katie Hersom drops into a bowl during the Skate Fish skateboard camp at The Dave Olseth Memorial Skatepark in Whitefish on July 11, 2019.

In the summer of 2021, Matt Holloway was skating at the Dave Olseth Memorial Skate Park in Whitefish when he faced down a disaster in the making. 

He’d just dropped into the bowl when a kid on a scooter cut directly in front of him. 

“I had to jump off my board and eat the concrete to avoid hitting this little kid,” he said. “Immediately there were a lot of things running through my brain, but the biggest one was that we needed more room at the skate park. We need a beginner area where newcomers can get used to the flow of a skate park and the etiquette.”

By the next spring, Holloway and a few friends formed the nonprofit Whitefish Skatepark Association and began holding community meetings to discuss a potential expansion. 

“The park absolutely fulfilled its need in 2005, but today it’s not doing that,” Holloway said. “I wanted it to be taken care of quickly so we wouldn’t have these safety concerns anymore.”

After a year of fundraising efforts, the Whitefish Skatepark Association (WSA) is nearing its $350,000 goal with plans to break ground on the expansion this summer. 

The skate park is named in honor of Dave Olseth, an avid Whitefish skateboarder and mountain biker killed in 2001 when he flipped over a rock wall while bicycling along Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. His family donated $100,000 toward the initial build, covering a third of the costs.  

Since the park opened in 2005, it has only grown in popularity, offering a place of creativity, exercise and community for Flathead Valley locals and pro skateboarders alike. 

The growth might be most visible during the annual Sk8fish Camp, a month-long summer program run through the City of Whitefish. 

Leland McNamara has been the camp’s director since 2019, taking over from longtime coach/director Michael “Spike” Blauvelt.

The camp is capped each week at 40 kids, but McNamara says he ends up with an extensive waiting list each week, which also sparked the desire for an expansion.  

“Every summer I see kids work through a lot of fear and anxiety, the feeling you might not belong, these hard things that we all deal with in life, but in skateboarding you battle head on every day,” McNamara said. “Kids will start with little or no ability and progress in leaps and bounds in just a month of skateboarding. The more chances we can give kids to experience that the better.”

As a city, Whitefish has embraced skateboarding culture, not only by putting on the summer camp, but by donating the land the skate park was built on. When the WSA approached the city to discuss an expansion, Holloway said they “immediately offered 110% support for the effort.”

Ryan Brown, another WSA member who helped with efforts to build the original park, said the city’s embrace of skateboarding culture has been great to see over the years. 

“When we first tried building the first phase, it was a little more standoffish,” he said. “We were a bunch of punk skateboard kids in our 20s at the time and it took some time to express our vision. Now it’s been such a success and they keep beautifying the area. It’s really come all the way around.”

“What it means is people are finally seeing skateboarding differently,” Holloway added. “This community has continued to open up and embrace the needs of everyone. We said we needed a bigger space for beginners and the city said, ‘Amen, go do it.’”

The $350,000 fundraising effort, roughly the same cost as the original park’s footprint, came together faster than expected, with Holloway saying the association is less than $50,000 from their goal. Any funds above the goal will be used for additional improvements, signage, landscaping, and more, according to Holloway.

“It’s a testament to the community, a testament to people seeing the value of positive outdoor recreation,” Holloway said. “Not everyone plays sanctioned sports, not everyone hikes in Glacier, but different cultures can overlap and respect what other people do. Most of the people who are supporting this effort don’t skateboard, but they see the value in it. That’s really beautiful to see.”

Leland McNamara, Matt Holloway, and Ryan Brown, key members of the Whitefish Skatepark Association, pictured in downtown Whitefish on Feb. 16, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Construction of the Dave Olseth Memorial Skate Park expansion will begin on June 21. Dreamland Skateparks, the company that designed and built the existing park, along with 10 others across Montana, finished designing the new section to cater specifically to WSA’s requests. 

Mark Scott, a pro skateboarder, and his wife, Danyel, founded Dreamland Skateparks in Oregon to bring professional-caliber skate parks to communities around the world. But this corner of Montana holds a special space for the company. 

Danyel is originally from Whitefish and said she’d never been involved with, or even seen, the skateboarding world until she moved to Oregon and met her husband. After Dreamland gained traction in the skateboarding world, the couple joined in the effort to build the Whitefish skate park after Danyel saw the interest in her hometown during the course of several visits.   

“To know what the area was like as a teenager, then to hear some of my friends pulling the idea together, we knew that we had to help make it happen,” Danyel said. “It was the most heartfelt and special project we’ve ever done.”

The existing park was designed exclusively with skateboarding in mind, focusing on intermediate and advanced terrain.

“We had the go-big-or-go-home mentality because there weren’t a lot of skate parks in the state at the time,” Danyel said. “We were thinking of the crucial elements that no other park had, so we built a huge park with a deep bowl. Whitefish is such a recreation designation with skiing and hiking, and we wanted it to be a destination skateboarding spot too.”

The expansion, by contrast, will add beginner terrain with wide-open spaces and increased visibility. It’s designed as an above-ground, street-style area that will allow for various skating styles including scooters and bikes. 

“It just flows,” Danyel said. “It goes from different elevations to different textures and colors throughout the park and blends into the existing structures. The variety and inclusivity is crazy to see.”

The above-ground design means that visitors can walk up and see every feature of the expansion, including some artistic elements — there will be a skateable fish and bear sculpture in the park. The additional 6,500 square feet will include rails, boxes, ledges, stairs, and banks to complement the current features. 

 “Taking these dreams people have, seeing the designs come together and eventually shaping the parks is always exciting, but it’s really exciting when we’re in Montana — most importantly my hometown,” Danyel said. “This expansion shows that outdoor recreation is growing, and the communities are coming together to let kids have a space to be free, bond and recreate.” 

Danyel said the company has blocked off three months for construction, with the goal of wrapping up by Labor Day, so there will be a window of good weather for skateboarders to test out the addition. 

“This is going to be the second-largest park in all of Montana, and will be by far the most beautiful,” she said. 

Renderings for an expansion of the Whitefish Skate Park. Courtesy image

Montana is home to more than 33 skate parks, many of which are world-class venues in unlikely, far-flung locales. 

From the northwest corner of Montana to the Idaho border, one can string together skate parks with startling regularity. In addition to skate parks in Whitefish and Kalispell, there are parks in Troy, Polson, Ronan, St. Ignatius, Missoula, Stevensville, Hamilton and Darby. 

It’s the same throughout the state. One reason Montana’s towns have become skateboarding oases is the work done by Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and his nonprofit Montana Pool Service, which has helped fund and build parks across the state, many in rural communities and on Indian Reservations, including the 13,000-square-foot Thunder Park in Browning. Last fall, Ament was on hand for the ribbon cutting of the latest skate park in Hardin. 

Holloway says the expansion of skating opportunities around the state has allowed the culture to take off while building relationships that transcend location. 

“I can go to any of these skate parks around the state and know kids there, or adults who started skateboarding as kids,” Holloway said. “We’ve formed connections all over the state because there’s such a positive community centered around skateboarding.”

While Whitefish will soon boast the second-largest skate park in Montana, and Kalispell’s own 7,000-square-foot skate park just below the Parkline Trail offers additional opportunities, Holloway wants skaters in the Flathead to have more chances to drop in. 

“Having two top-notch parks in the area is great, but it doesn’t help the kids who can’t get to them,” said Holloway. “I’ve been driving to Whitefish and back every day to skate for nearly 15 years. In the back of my head, I always felt a little bit of remorse for the homies in Columbia Falls who couldn’t drive or bike to Whitefish.”

At the same time he formed the WSA, Holloway formed the Badrock Skatepark Association along with Rebecca Powell, Simon Smith and Tyrel Johnson, and reached out to the Columbia Falls City Council about bringing a public skate park to the area. Holloway said he also mentioned the idea to Ament, who was excited by the prospect.

In the last year, the Association has fundraised enough money to start construction on a park but needs a suitable area to build. The goal is to finish the Whitefish expansion and then launch a full campaign to seek out a location in Columbia Falls. 

“We’ve essentially already got a whole skate park funded here,” Holloway said. “I think we’ll get some momentum after Whitefish because people will be having the conversations about bringing skating even closer.”

In the meantime, the Badrock Skatepark Association has made shirts and stickers with what Brown calls the “coolest logo for a skate park that doesn’t exist.”

Danyel Scott said a park in Columbia Falls aligns with the goals of Dreamland and the Montana Pool Association — to make skateboarding as accessible as possible, especially in smaller communities. 

“It’s all about closing the gap for those kids who can’t make it out from Hungry Horse or Bigfork. We want to give every local kid who wants to skate the best opportunity to do so,” she said, adding that as soon as they figure out how much land they have to work with, they’ll begin the design phase. 

“We aim for accessibility, visibility and feasibility in a location, a place kids can get to quickly from a school,” she said. “But we’ve done it all and built in every space imaginable. We always say there’s no park too small because any park is better than none.”

Holloway said the momentum of the Whitefish expansion makes bringing a skate park to Columbia Falls less of an uphill battle. He can point to the waiting lists for Sk8Fish Camp, the lack of vandalism and the care and stewardship on display as skaters shift the paradigm of how people viewed the countercultural hobby when he was younger. 

“Skateboarding culture is way more mainstream than it was 20 years ago,” Holloway said. “It’s really accepted across the board. I mean, you’re seeing skateboarding in the Olympics now, so the timing for these projects couldn’t be more perfect.”

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