At three-and-a-half years old, Skyler Grams is just a beginner on the board, but he was as excited as anyone to try out Stettler’s new skate park.
“He was asking if it was getting built,” said his mother, Jill Lepard, recalling how her son would repeatedly ask, “Is it done yet? Is it done yet?”
Skyler and his father, Chad, were part of the crowd of skaters that came by to check out the park at its unofficial opening in West Stettler Park on Saturday, Sept. 13.
They were living proof of skate park committee president Mike Lawlor’s claim that the new park is for everyone to enjoy.
“Other than my wedding, this is one of the best days of my life,” said Lawlor, who has worked with the other committee members for three years to make the park a reality.
“To see how big this park is, in comparison to what we had before, just goes to show that the need was there for what we put in.”
Dozens of enthusiasts, on bikes, boards, scooters and roller blades, crowded the surface of the park, riding on its ramps, slopes and bars. As Lawlor observed, the crowd spanned generations; toddlers rode their bikes alongside teens and young men on skateboards.
Based on the response to Facebook invitations, Lawlor said he expected a turnout of close to 100, and he wasn’t disappointed. His son Nathan, 8, was also there to enjoy the new park.
A free barbecue was provided by ATCO Electric, while skaters crowded around for a product toss, fueled by donations from both ATCO and Red Deer’s West 49 store. The prizes included hoodies, shirts, gift certificates, stickers, tattoos and a couple of skateboards; altogether, the prizes were valued at well over $1,000.
Saturday’s event was intended as a “soft” opening, said Lawlor, as the paved surfaces were ready for use and the construction fences had come down.
A formal opening is expected to follow next spring, he added, saying that donors would be invited to see the fruit of their contributions.
Some work remains to be done; grass will be seeded, the park will be joined to West Stettler Park’s path system, and plaques in recognition of donors will be installed.
Lawlor expressed his appreciation to the sponsors and the members of the skate park committee, saying, “Projects like this do not happen without their support.”
Lee Penner, the town’s director of parks and leisure services, said this week that construction costs for the park have reached $402,000, not including the work yet to be completed.
Among the spectators on Saturday was Stettler Mayor Dick Richards, who said he was impressed by the turnout.
“My first thought was, ‘Where have all these kids been doing this before?’” said the mayor. “The facility is truly a testament to the committee’s hard work, and council’s belief that there needed to be support for alternative sports.”
The park met with similar approval from teenage users like Dakota Murphy, who recently moved to Stettler from Mackenzie, B.C.
“I actually really like it,” said Murphy, who turns 18 this month. “It’s a really sick park, I like the design. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Though the opening didn’t begin till noon, Chad Grams said he had seen kids out enjoying the park at 8:30 a.m. that day.
Grams, 32, who grew up in Botha, said he bought a new skateboard for the occasion, even though he hasn’t skated as much in recent years.
He said it was a “huge” improvement over the town’s old park, with plenty of surfaces that will keep skaters entertained.
“There’s lots of people here challenging themselves,” he said, gesturing towards the crowd. “They’re going to be here all the time.”