Tony Hawk showcases new skatepark in Detroit; more Michigan parks in pipeline

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Skateboarding icon Tony Hawk celebrated the grand opening of Chandler Park Skatepark on Detroit's eastside Sunday. 

The 15,000-square-foot park sits in view of the Wayne County Family Aquatic Center on Chandler Park Drive and will serve a "melting pot for skaters and bikers of all ages," Hawk said.

The Skatepark Project, formerly known as the Tony Hawk Foundation, developed the park with financial support from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. The foundations also supported the development of three parks in the Littlefield and Happy Homes neighborhoods in west Detroit and a skatepark in Port Huron.

Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk fist bumps a fan during the grand opening of the Chandler Park Skatepark in Detroit on Sunday.

The foundation provided the partnership's "Built to Play" program with technical support, combined with $2.1 million in matching funds for the parks.

Skateparks benefit youth's mental and physical well-being, Hawk said, adding action sports like BMX biking and skateboarding were found to fill a void in communities in southeast Michigan that are underserved by traditional sports.

"It helps kids, especially those who don't feel like they belong in team sports or are disenfranchised by mainstream activities, to have a sense of belonging and feel supported by their city," Hawk told The Detroit News. "To have a place that I wasn't at risk of getting hit by traffic or being told not to skate. So, when I had a chance to affect any kind of change, I wanted it to be through implementing skateparks."

Chandler Skatepark is free and open to the public. It plans to launch lessons on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Skater Tyler Beeney, 18, of Westland skates through the ribbon along with other skaters to officially open the new Chandler Park Skatepark in Detroit on Sunday, June 26, 2022.

Keviyan Richardson, who lives behind the skatepark, said the project was two years in the making.

"I'm so happy with it and how community input went into it," said Richardson, 25. "... Connect with residents, their history and Chandler Park's architecture. This space is for youth to flourish and know that one day, they could have a professional career in something they love."

Chandler Park resident and skateboard advocate Keviyan Richardson speaks during the grand opening of Chandler Park Skatepark on Sunday.

Trevor Staples, manager of the Skatepark Project, said it was essential to invest community parks because only 13% of youth in Detroit will get the amount of exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a study, the State of Play, funded by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

Staples said the Chandler Park Conservancy was one of the first groups approached when the grant initiative launched in 2018.

"If you ask kids what they want, they will say skateparks to be freely themselves and free of parents," said Staples. "Together, we're going to build 20 skateparks in southeast Michigan and New York that will serve as a model for hundreds of others."

Skater Jason Couch, 19, of Livonia flies over the 'Chandler' sign during the grand opening of the new Chandler Park Skatepark in Detroit.

Chandler Park is one of only four 200-acre regional parks in the city. The conservancy is working to develop a multi-facility "urban conservation campus," the only one of its kind in the state, said Alex Allen, Chandler Park Conservancy director Alex Allen. Funding for the park was also provided by Find Your Grind Foundation and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.. Classes will be funded by Rocket Community Fund and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The park has changed over the years, adding an aquatic center and tennis courts, and on Sunday, unveiling the skatepark, Mayor Mike Duggan said.

"Next year, we are going to build an indoor dome that will allow year-round recreation in the center (of the campus)," Duggan said. "I don't know who the celebrity is we'll get there, but I know for sure, it's not going to be as big of a star as Tony Hawk," Duggan said.

Concrete skateparks can make a difference environmentally as well. Following historic flooding last summer, the design of Chandler Park Skatepark incorporates storm water management to reduce runoff and has drought-resistant plant species in the landscaping.

The design is based on the natural environment found in the park, and the skatepark features terrain designs for traditional and street style skateboarding. It was designed and constructed by Hardcore Surfaces of California.

Skaters Mason Farley, left, and Cullen Farley, both 13, of Macomb Township, listen as Tony Hawk opens Chandler Park Skatepark on  Sunday.

"When I first started skating, skateparks were mainly empty pools that were private facilities. I remember, I was trying to learn a trick in a pool, half way up the wall, I attempted a backside virial ... it was something I was creating on my own, something I never saw anyone do before," Hawk told the crowd. "I kept trying and trying and I finally made it, and that sense of accomplishment and the confidence it gave me was like nothing else I had experienced. That was the main catalyst for me making a career off of it, but it all started because I had that facility near me."

Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk autographs a helmet for Sofia Claudino, 13, of Shelby Township, who brought her mother, Paula Chester, to the grand opening Sunday.

Sofia Claudino, 13, dragged her mother, Paula Chester, from Shelby Township to meet Hawk and have a first look at the park, which featured a mix of ages skateboarding and biking. Sofia got Hawk to autograph her Pop! action figure and her helmet. 

"We typically go to Modern Skate Park in Madison Heights but that's an indoor-only facility and the only one we know in the state," her mother said. "We're from Shelby Township and she usually just practices in the garage, so a place like this is very special for weekend trips."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_