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A Ramp to Remember

By Danielle Piekarski

Brian Rydell and Todd Bratrud have shared a passion for skateboarding since they were kids. Growing up, Brian had a small skatepark in his family’s backyard. This skatepark was later moved behind the Rydell dealership, where it would become more frequently used by the Grand Forks locals. In order to enjoy that very same skatepark, Todd had to travel to Grand Forks from his home in Crookston. At this time, the Greater Grand Forks skateboarding community was small, which allowed Brian and Todd to become familiar with each other.

More than 20 years later, Todd moved back to Crookston from California where he had established a successful career as an artist. Crookston still had no skatepark. However, there was now a parking lot with wooden ramps across from the old Grand Forks police station. This space was well-used and cared for by those who skated there often. While in Grand Forks, Todd heard about an effort to create a larger, concrete skatepark for the community. He began attending city meetings, which is where he met an old acquaintance, Brian Rydell. This project would be the start of a friendship that would forever transform the Grand Forks skating scene.

Together, Brian and Todd were the main driving factors behind the Grand Forks skatepark project. Work and school commitments made it difficult for other supporters of the park to do the necessary legwork. Fortunately, they had Todd, a passionate supporter who was self-employed, with a schedule that allowed him to attend meetings and be the voice for the skatepark advocates. Having experienced the feelings of comradery and community at other skateparks, enthusiasts knew this project was needed for the Grand Forks area.

The plan was now gaining traction with the Grand Forks City and Park District. Planning began with a bid from Spohn Ranch, a renowned skatepark design and building company based in Los Angeles, CA. A few different locations were proposed, each with different track layouts. The proposed skatepark was larger and more expensive than what had originally been envisioned, which meant that fundraising efforts would have to be diligent.

Ultimately, Kannowski Park offered the greatest amount of space for designers to work with.

Construction of the park was split into two phases. The first phase would be smaller than the second and would feature a bowl, bank ramp, two-sided quarter pipe, and a tabletop. In total, this phase would cost $350,000, all of which would be paid in donations and grants. Brian and Todd worked with the Grand Forks City and Park District to find ways to fund the project. “They were so helpful when it came to applying for grants and fundraising,” said Bratrud. “Once it got rolling, everyone got behind it.”

The construction of phase one concluded in September of 2018. The park was named “Rydell Skatepark,” after Brian Rydell and family who had donated a significant amount of time and money to the project. The opening of Rydell Skatepark brought in hundreds of people of all ages and skill levels. The park continued to bring in traffic long after its grand opening, especially during the warmer months.

The success of phase one was a major contributing factor in the fundraising efforts for phase two. This phase would include more features than the first, and cost an additional $100,000. Again, Rydell and Bratrud would work with the Grand Forks City and Park District to secure funds.

In addition to generous individual donations, other notable donations and grants include:

· Community Development Block Grant (from the City of Grand Forks)

· Engelstad Family Foundation

· 2017 Rydell Car Show Fundraiser

· Garrison Diversion

· Hugo’s Family Marketplace

· GF Parks Foundation (Joel Neel, Jr. Fund)

· In-Kind – Strata Group

· In-Kind – Wells Concrete

· Myra Foundation

· Tony Hawk Foundation

· Send Help Skateboards

The opening of phase two was celebrated with a launch party in September of 2021. This opening, like the first, was well attended.

Rydell Skatepark is completely free to all that use it. Skateboarders, scooters, bicyclists, and even roller skaters are welcome to learn and practice at the park, which boasts 19 different features.

One feature is particularly special. The Air JerBear Ramp is the monument of the park, standing at eight feet tall, with its name in tile at the top. The ramp commemorates Rydell’s childhood friend, Jerry Kotalik, who passed away at age 40. As children, Rydell and Kotalik played sports and skateboarded together. Rydell recalled one of his favorite memories with Kotalik being a time in their youth, when he and Kotalik built a small wooden launch ramp. “We had no clue what we were doing,” chuckled Rydell. “His first try on the new ramp, he broke his arm.” Kotalik’s memory lives on at the park, where skaters shred the ramp and ask, “Who is Jer-Bear?”

“I am so happy and proud that we could not only create this park, but have a tribute to my friend,” said Rydell. “I know he would have loved this place.”

Rydell and Kotalik’s friendship is just one example of how skateboarding brings people together. The state-of-the-art park brings in groups far and wide. “After just a few weeks of the skatepark being completed, we were already starting to see visitors from all over the area, traveling to Grand Forks to use the skatepark,” commented Jill Nelson, Director of Operations and Community Relations for the Grand Forks Park District. “With features like a skate bowl, quarter pipes, ramps, a vertical wall, and more, Grand Forks is now on the map for having the destination skatepark in the region.”

“Everything a skater could want, we have now,” Bratrud said. “We now have a safe place for our community to learn and practice,” he added. When asked about the dynamic of the skateboarding community, Rydell and Bratrud both said that it is an extremely connected and supportive group. They encouraged anyone interested in skating to go to the park and watch others. “Someone is going to offer you their board. Everyone is very welcoming,” said Bratrud. “It’s not about being the best. It’s about doing the best that you can do. Others are going to guide you, help you out, and then they are going to be excited for you.” G

// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here

PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY Grand Forks Park District

From Issue 2, 2022


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