Jeff Ament Funds Big Sandy, Montana Skatepark

by Kathy Davis on October 14, 2010

Jeff Backs Big Sandy Skate BowlJeff skates in Big Sandy-photo by Ron Sanders/Great Falls Tribune

Jeff skates in Big Sandy-photo by Ron Sanders/Great Falls Tribune

It’s well known that talented Pearl Jam bassist has been a passionate skateboarder for a good chunk of his life. A great news article in the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune tells us the story behind Jeff’s backing of a skatepark in his hometown of Big Sandy, Montana. What a great way to give back to the community and give local skaters a quality place to ride.  Here’s the story, written by Kim Skornogoski;  the original  can be found here.

BIG SANDY — As a teen, Jeff Ament and his father George built a 25-foot-long ramp out of plywood sheets in the family’s shed. At the time, George Ament saw it as an opportunity to teach his son some practical construction skills — not to advance his son’s ability to carve and grind.

Turns out the later skateboarding skills proved far more useful.

Ament, a bassist and songwriter for grunge rock band Pearl Jam, recently returned to his hometown of Big Sandy to build a bigger skating playground, this time constructed with concrete and rebar.

“When I started skating in 1976, if you wanted something you had to create it yourself,” Ament said. “It definitely wasn’t this nice.”

Few of Big Sandy’s streets are paved, and those that are, often are sprinkled with rocks and dirt. Likewise, sidewalks are rare and far from smooth.

“It’s a big gravelly town; there’s not much to skate on,” said Josh Danreuther, who picked up skater skills while living in Seattle for nine years before returning to his hometown to run Pep’s Bar and Lanes. “There are a lot of kids here who wanted to do it, but never had the opportunity. They are really jacked.”

Baggy jeans drooping to expose underwear, cutoff shorts stained with paint, shaggy unwashed hair and equally dirty T-shirts — the nine Seattle guys raised a few eyebrows when they drove into town.

But when two elementary classes crossed the street to visit the completed skate park Wednesday, it was all wide eyes and smiles.

“I think a lot of kids are going to be asking for skateboards over dinner tonight,” said Daren Schuster, who helped get the project off the ground. “I might go to town and buy some bubble wrap and a football helmet and give it a try myself.”

After three weeks of welding forms and smoothing concrete, the park was finished Tuesday night. Minutes after sunrise Wednesday, Ament arrived, board in hand, to give it a spin.

“As small towns get smaller and smaller, I think it becomes more important for kids to have something to do outside of just school sports,” Ament said. “My dad helped me build ramps, now I can give kids around here something else to do.”

Ament, who now lives in Missoula and Seattle, has chipped in money to small towns in Washington and Montana to fund skate parks. He was a major backer of Missoula’s Mobash Skatepark, convincing the band to give money, and just as importantly, spending hours convincing city planners to go through with the project.

“I must have gone to 40 meetings in four years before they even started building,” Ament said. “For this one, I just called up Daren (Schuster) and he said, ‘yes.’”

A classmate and friend of Ament’s, Schuster was the mayor of Big Sandy at the time and is currently a Chouteau county commissioner.  Once Big Sandy’s mayor himself, George Ament isn’t joking when he admits that a skate park wouldn’t have been built during his decade at the helm of town council.  These days, project foreman and skate park designer Randy Hanford said communities are embracing what was an outlaw sport.

“The town has been nothing but supportive,” he said Wednesday. “It’s been fun.”

The skate arena was designed and built by Grindline Skatepark Inc., which has constructed more than 100 parks around the world including Great Falls, Missoula, Japan and Israel. Because Ament had worked with Grindline before and because the town was willing to wait until the end of the construction season, the Seattle-based company cut costs.

Schuster cleared county crews and equipment to move dirt, donated by the city.  All told, the project price tag ended up at $40,000. Ament even intends to buy a few skateboards, helmets and pads to keep on hand for kids who don’t have them.

“This one is a good beginning-level bowl,” Hanford said. “It’s very forgiving and very fast. It’s a free roller coaster, is what it is.” The oblong bowl is about 100 feet long by 50 feet wide.  Much of the bottom is flat, which allows beginners some space to slow down and get their balance. The rim is higher on two ends, adding to the difficulty level as skaters improve their skills and pick up speed.

Because of the water table, the bottom of the bowl itself sits at ground level. By spring, grass will cover the mounded dirt that surrounds the park, and stairs will make it easier for skateboarders to reach the rim.

The skate park construction is just the latest improvement at the park. At the time Ament pitched the idea, Big Sandy already was using grants to redo the outdoor pool deck. Last summer, the town installed new playground equipment.

Eventually, the skate park could be expanded to add some street-style skating obstacles such as rails, blocks and benches. Next spring, Ament plans to bring some friends who are professional skateboarders back to put on a show in Big Sandy.

Already, two skateboarders from Whitefish drove out to check out the park.

“The kids have been patiently waiting — some have been impatiently waiting,” Schuster said. “There are some old skaters in town, too. Some of them are getting their wheels shined up.”

Wheel grinding rock!

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

Leave a Comment