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Ament, Rocky Boy come together for skate park opening


Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

A youth skater rises out of the bowl at the Ah-Wah-Si-Sahk Community Skate Park on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation Sunday afternoon. The community held a grand opening of the skate park that was built with the help of the Jeff Ament Foundation and Evergreen Skate Parks.

BOX ELDER - On a warm, sunny, summer day on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, with a fresh Montana wind blowing, something else fresh and new was happening - and it was something special and unique, something that many hope will have a lasting impact on the youth of the community there.

Thanks to the hard work of many, and the generosity of Pearl Jam bassist and Big Sandy-native Jeff Ament, his foundation and Evergreen skate parks, the Ah-Wah-Si-Sahk Community Skatepark was christened Sunday afternoon, with Ament, many of his friends, and hundreds of members of the Rocky Boy community in attendance.

Ament has helped fund many skatepark projects in Montana over the years, including in his hometown of Big Sandy, as well as in Havre, Hays and Browning. He's brought skate parks to many rural communities and on reservations across Montana, and with Rocky Boy being so close to home, he was overwhelmed by Sunday's event.

"It's mind-blowing because I didn't really know the community was getting together. I thought some kids were going to show up, we were going to give 'em some hats and shirts and maybe give a few boards away, and teach a few kids to ride," Ament said. "Whether it's Big Sandy or Box Elder or wherever, whenever you see a community come together like this, for anything but especially for the youth, I always get a little emotional about it. It's always heartwarming to know that everybody still cares about young people. So to see everybody out here today, it's amazing."

And caring about the youth of the Rocky Boy community has been a driving force in the skate park project from the very beginning.

"It's super exciting to see the fruition of the hard work of so many," said Rocky Boy's Javon Wing, who was instrumental in the project. "So many people put their hearts into this. The team, the planning and development crew, Jeff (Ament), Evergreen (skate parks), without all of them, none of this would have been possible, so it's a very exciting day. But most importantly, it's exciting because there's an alternative outlet for kids here who may be interested in skate boarding or learning the sport, or for kids who are just looking to connect with something new. It's very exciting for our kids to have a new and fun, creative outlet. It's a blessing and we're very appreciative of it."

And that new and creative outlet, the sport of skateboarding, is something that isn't lost on Billy Coulan of Evergreen skate parks. The company works closely with Jeff Ament Foundation, and the mission isn't just to build a quality skate park. No, for Ament, Evergreen and so many others involved in the project, it goes much deeper, and much closer to the heart.

"It's amazing," Coulan said. "It's why I keep doing this year after year. To see these kids here, to see how excited they are and taking to it right away, it's very meaningful. You'll come back here a year from now and see these kids ripping so hard, and you'll see that this has become these kids' spot. This will become their place in the community. And this will be something that will take these kids all over the world. They'll have something they share and cherish together. So that's very meaningful for us, and it's why I love these projects. It's just a really special thing, and projects like this one keep me going and keep me doing what I love."

Throughout the day, plenty of kids, some already experienced and some giving skateboarding a try for the first time, were already having a blast in the new skate park, which is a specially designed bowl with plenty of curves and transitions. Many adult riders, some who came with Ament and others with the Evergreen crew, as well as local riders, were also on hand to give the brand-new park a try, and one thing was for certain, everybody was excited.

"This is really cool," Rocky Boy fourth-grader Santana Wells Jr. said. "This is a place I'm going to come to a lot now. This makes me want to get into skateboarding way more now."

"I'm really excited," fourth-grader Tristan Torres added. "I started learning to skate about two years ago, so this is really awesome. This is somewhere we can skate, ride our bikes or our scooters. There's a lot you can do here, so I'm really excited about it."

And that's the goal - to give kids in the community an alternative, an option, a way to be active and healthy, in a fun and creative way. To give them something they can do and be passionate about, just like Ament has always been, not just about skateboarding but also about spending as much time as he could outdoors and being active when he was a youth in Big Sandy.

"That's 90 percent of the reason I do this," said Ament, who is on a short break before Pearl Jam returns to touring with the Home and Away Shows, which include a stop in Missoula, next month. "I love young people so much. I want to get them outside and get them active. So much of my youth was spent in Big Sandy and in this part of the country riding motorcycles, riding our bikes, playing basketball and just being outside. It's what I love about Montana. It's clean air and clean water and mountains and rivers and the lakes. So this is what it's all about for me, just giving these kids an opportunity to be outside, be active and be healthy."

That's what means the most to Wing and many others who also helped put the Rocky Boy skate park project in motion. And after a special Sunday in Rocky Boy, where everybody came together for skating, for food and music and sun and fun, and, especially, for the kids in the community, she says the impacts from Sunday, and the opening of the shiny new skate park, will be far-reaching and long-lasting.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament hands out a hat to a local youth during the grand opening of the Rocky Boy Community Skate Park Sunday afternoon. The skate park was built with the help of the Jeff Ament Foundation and Evergreen Skate Parks.

"I think the effects of this will be paramount," Wing said. "We have a lot of kids here who need a connection, they need to connect with something. Whether it's some form of art or physical activity, they just need a creative way to connect with something, and I think if we continue to focus on the youth and continue to give them what they need, that helps bring up a healthier people, a healthier community in a healthier environment. So all together, the effects of this is not only physical health, but I would say it will affect emotional well-being, and spiritual well-being, because, like I said, a lot of these kids are looking to connect with something special to them, and if we can open those outlets to any new ideas, thoughts, opportunities, anything like that is great for them.

"So this is definitely going to benefit the entire community, and you see it here today already, where everybody is here to support this project and support each other," Wing added. "It's very special and very important."


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