ARMADA, Mich. - A lot of kids have pie-in-the sky dreams, few make them come true like Tyler Ross and Jacob Gritzinger.
This weekend the pair of childhood friends cut the ribbon of the all-new Armada Skatepark. To some it’s a world-class concrete skatepark, but for the friends it’s much, much more. In fact, they started planning for the park when they were only 10-years-old.
“It brings tears to eyes,” said Gritzinger. “It really does.”
Gritzinger’s voice seemed to shake while he thought back to the initial journey. Ross was the one who approached the Village President when he was 14-years-old — they were encourage by her, but few others. They never forgot that. She was among a handful of politicians and movers-and-shakers who were handed over special certificates at the grand opening.
“I just want to say this is a long time coming,” said Gritzinger over a bullhorn, a crowd of 30-40 people surrounding him. “It took us about 10-years to build this park. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
There were golf tournaments, fun runs, poker runs and even a grant from Reader’s Digest. The friends spent ten years working to raise money. Eventually they had roughly $200,000 — that’s when a handful of businesses realized how close to the finish line the project was. They chipped in donating everything from iron bars used to lay the foundation to concrete and sod to plant around the park.
“It’s a 300-thousand dollar park with the sticker price of 200-thousand,” said Ross.
The pair still ride BMX bikes, but admitted the park is really for the community. It’s open to skateboarders, bikers and scooter riders — really, they wanted to create an inclusive area. They hired a company out of California that’s worked on professional skateboarding circuits to build parks used in professional tournaments. Now, it’s in the backyard of Armada.
“I’ve never been in a skatepark this big,” said Anthony Winn, who showed up this weekend with his brother’s old bike and a new helmet. “He started doing more trick and then I got into it, that’s how we’ve progressed.”
Winn’s mom, Kim Lazzara, said the sport is helping her son come out of his shell. He and his twin brother Marino were flying up and down ramps on Saturday — she cringed, but smiled.
“They’re obviously enjoying themselves,” said Lazzara, who has encouraged them to BMX bike if it’s what they like. “My heart is pounding right now, but they haven’t broken anything yet.”
She laughed, and pointed out that the park is next to the fire department, “This is so much better than XBOX, I love that they’re outside.”
Gritzinger said that’s what the park is all about. Growing up they didn’t have a place to play — there were soccer and football fields, there is even two baseball fields next to the all-new skatepark but there was never a good place for them to skate, or bike. There’s a small park a few towns over with two ramps, but the closest professional-style park to Armada was far away in Saginaw.
In fact, one father drove his kids 45 minutes to be at the Armada Skatepark for it’s opening. Others showed up just to see the kids playing.
“It’s been such an experience,” said Ross. “Just to have this feeling, knowing we did this, it’s just a great feeling seeing everyone out here enjoying themselves.”
The Armada Skatepark is free and open to the public. It has signs posted that those utilizing the park are required to use helmets.