Progress Continues on Flathead Valley Skateparks

Construction has begun on the Whitefish skatepark expansion; Columbia Falls city council approves new skatepark at Fenholt Park

By Micah Drew
Expansion of the Dave Olseth Memorial Skatepark in Whitefish on July 7, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

At 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, a dozen cars filled the parking lot of the Dave Olseth Memorial Skatepark in Whitefish. Out of each popped a kid, or two, in helmets and kneepads, each carrying a skateboard to take part in the annual Sk8fish Camp, a month-long summer program run through the city.

While Leland McNamara, the camp’s director since 2019, led the kids through a stretching routine, their youthful eyes often strayed towards a stretch of neon orange fencing bisecting the concrete halfpipe where they gathered.

On the other side of the fencing, Mark Scott maneuvered a skid-steer back and forth over newly churned dirt, slowly building up sections of what will soon be the skatepark’s second phase, while his wife, Danyel Scott, looked on.

Since breaking ground just a few weeks ago, Danyel said there’s been days where the entire fence is lined with kids watching the new section of skatepark take shape, pointing out the different features and envisioning the lines they’ll soon be able to skate.

“This vision that’s been around for years is finally coming together, and people get to see that process,” Danyel said. “It’s still amazing to me how it happens. I mean I do this every day and it can just become part of the normal routine, but it’s quite the artistic process, and seeing that unfold helps build the excitement for sure.”

Danyel and Mark founded Dreamland Skateparks in Oregon more than two decades ago to design and build professional-caliber skateparks in communities around the world. Dreamland has built parks in Israel, Mexico, Sweden and across the United States, but this corner of Montana holds a special place. Danyel is originally from Whitefish, and after meeting her husband and getting involved in the skateboarding world, the couple joined in the effort to build the original Whitefish skatepark after Danyel saw the interest in her hometown during visits.

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.  

Dreamland designed and built the park in 2005, and it has only grown in popularity, offering a place of creativity, exercise and community for Flathead Valley locals and pro skateboarders alike. The growth is most visibly seen with the Sk8fish Camp, which routinely has a waiting list.

“When I think back to how long it took to get the first phase done, and compare that to this, where really in just a year and a half we went from planning to fundraising to construction, it’s pretty amazing,” Danyel said. “I think that short turnaround is a testament to the community we have here that is willing to come together.”

The Scotts, along with the nonprofit Whitefish Skatepark Association (WSA), began advocating for expanding the existing skatepark in 2022, quickly raising enough money to begin the design process last year.

“What it means is people are finally seeing skateboarding differently,” WSA founder and longtime skateboarder Matt Holloway told the Beacon. “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 existing park was designed exclusively with skateboarding in mind, focusing on intermediate and advanced terrain. 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 “just flows,” according to Danyel. It will also allow for scooters and bikes.

Renderings and a three-dimensional model can be viewed on site at the skatepark.

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

As construction was beginning on the skatepark expansion in Whitefish, 15 miles away the Columbia Falls city council on July 3 unanimously approved a location for a future skatepark.

“We’ve built all over the state of Montana and all over the world,” Danyel told the city council. “We’ve seen what a difference it makes in the smallest of communities and the largest. I think revitalizing and brining life to that current park project is perfect.”

The city council voted unanimously to designate Fenholt Park on the east side of town as the location for the city’s own skate park. The city park currently features a playground, baseball field, and popular sledding hill but has ample room for the planned 8,000- to 12,000-square-foot skate park the Scotts have in mind.

Holloway, along with Rebecca Powell, Tyrel Johnson and Simon Smith, founded the nonprofit Badrock Skatepark Association (BSA) in late 2021 with the goal of offering the same skateboarding access and community in Columbia Falls that residents of Kalispell and Whitefish have.

“For the past 18 years since the Whitefish skatepark was built, every day I leave my house in Columbia Falls and go over there feeling a bit of guilt because I know there’s a bunch of kids here that don’t have the same opportunities,” Holloway, who used to run a skateboarding club at Whitefish High School, told the council. “I love the thought of giving the kids in this city the same chance to enhance their lives and enhance their community that I’ve found.”

The BSA raised more than $400,000 in just over a year but was stymied on a sizable location that would be easily accessible for Columbia Falls residents, until Fenholt Park was considered by the city council earlier this year. The BSA will fund the park’s construction and contribute to maintenance, but it will remain a city-owned property.

Danyel Scott said that once the Whitefish expansion is finished, Dreamland and BSA will begin community outreach and site cleanup in Columbia Falls and start discussing potential design options. She said the park will likely focus on a one-of-a-kind deep bowl as a signature feature, fronted by a beginner and intermediate street and mellow skating area.

“There will be plenty of room there and it will really be a key connecting piece with all the other skateparks we’ve done in the area — St. Ignatius, Polson, Kalispell, Troy, Whitefish,” Scott said. “The Flathead Valley is definitely getting the hidden treasures of the skatepark world.”

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