Houghton skate park now open

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette — From left, Mary Jane Lowney and Alex Aho cut the ribbon at the Houghton Skatepark Friday.

HOUGHTON — With a backdrop of skaters and bikers flying through the air, organizers and city officials celebrated the official launch of the Houghton Skatepark Friday night.

Houghton’s is the second professional concrete skate park in the Upper Peninsula, after Marquette.

Several efforts to build a skate park before in Houghton had lost traction, said City Manager Eric Waara. He credited organizer Alex Aho with keeping the effort together, and pushing him where necessary.

“Alex poured a lot of himself into this, keeping this organized and moving,” Waara said. “And now we have this great addition to Houghton’s park system.”

Aho got into skating at Houghton’s Level II Skatepark in Dee Stadium, which closed in 2011. As a “quiet nerdy kid,” he said, Level II gave him a place he felt like he belonged.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette — Bryce VanderWest of Hancock lifts off from a ramp at the Houghton Skatepark during its grand opening Friday.

“When I started this project, I had two different married couples come up to me and say ‘We never would’ve met if it wasn’t for the skate park,'” he said. “Everything that I have done, every career bit that I have, every bit of skill that I’ve put toward this project came from that.”

Aho cut the ribbon for the park alongside his mother, Mary Jane Lowney, who was also involved with the project from the start. After a Western Upper Peninsula Health Department survey identified a need for kids to have more after-school activities, she said, Aho met with the city council for an introductory meeting about building a skate park.

“He said, ‘I’m going to do this,'” she said. “I worked in fundraising for Michigan Tech for 20 years, so I thought it’d be great to do this together.”

A skate park committee formed, meeting almost weekly over the next year, Lowney said. It wound up with more than $200,000, enough to condense two planned phases of construction into one. That included a $50,000 match from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and $10,000 from the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Local fundraisers included art auctions, where local artists painted on board donated by Quincy Woodwrights, a Houghton-based skateboard deck manufacturer.

Lowney thanked Waara and the city for their work backing the project, which included labor to finish the park.

“We’ve had nothing but support from the city from day one,” she said. “They’ve been fabulous.”

California company Spohn Ranch Skateparks designed the park, holding a meeting in Houghton to learn what features skaters wanted.

They came to the site last fall to begin construction. Landscaping has continued through the summer, with the last bit of sod still needing to be placed as of Friday night.

But eager skateboarders and BMX riders have been active at the park since the concrete was uncovered in the spring.

Beyond being functional, it’s also a beautiful park, Lowney said.

“The first time I came down, the waterworks came,” she said. “It’s like ‘Look what we have.’ Every time I’ve ever come by, somebody’s here. And it’s going to be here for years and years and years.”

Aho wants other towns in the Upper Peninsula to follow Houghton and Marquette’s lead.

“Please, build more of that,” he said. “Please do more public projects. Please do more youth-oriented projects. Please make it all happen.”