Over the past 12 days, the highest temperature in Ann Arbor, Michigan has been 18 degrees. Since then, it has yet to rise past the teens, sitting at its lowest at -18. This officially sets a new record of consecutive days in which the high temperature failed to rise past 20 degrees in the Metro Ann Arbor area. Although the high for today is slated to be 25, it will still be below the supposed average of 31. I would like to see these averages updated, because I can’t remember the last January in which 31 degrees was a common occurrence.
As unfortunate this reality may be, these Michigan winters are vital for Michigan skaters—because our favorite thing to say every March, when we can’t land a single trick, is, “I haven’t skated in three months.” There are ways for us to beat the snow and cold, with the most common being to skate in a parking garage. Those who take this approach- and are lucky enough to not get immediately kicked out- mostly practice their go-to flat ground tricks. These sessions typically last for only a few minutes, or until we become overwhelmed by fatigue and disappointment.
On Friday, January 5th, at 11:30am, I pulled into an imaginary parking spot at Veterans Memorial Park; home of Ann Arbor Skatepark. As the external temperature readout on my dashboard ticked up from six to seven, I could hear the built-up snow underneath my car scraping against that which was on the ground. The only other vehicle in the parking lot was a city salt truck; sitting perpendicular to what would have been three parking spaces. Inside sat two men staring into their phones; their faces obscured by oversized hoods.
In 2013, the city of Ann Arbor broke ground on a 30,000 square foot construction project to build what I consider to be the best skatepark I’ve ever used. The groundwork was laid nearly a decade earlier, when a committee formed to advocate for the city’s first outdoor skatepark. In the following years, after public hearings, Memorandums of Intent and preliminary blueprints, funding was identified and obtained through the Michigan DNR Trust Fund and the Washtenaw County Park and Recreation Commission—totaling $700,000. The total budget allocated for the project came in at $1.2mm, with the remaining funds coming from city funding and private donations. Construction was completed in mid-2014, and gave way to a grand opening attended by Andy Macdonald and Tony Hawk.
Stepping out of my car, I was met with frozen air both silent and still. It reminded me of winter mornings in which I would run from the back door of my house to the side door of my family’s one-car garage. Being authentic to the middle-class Midwest, there was no car inside. Instead, there were bikes, rusted landscaping equipment and a skateboard bought as a birthday gift from a local, big-box sporting goods store. On that board and on those winter mornings, I would practice ollies and kickflips for only a moment before running back to my bedroom to play more Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. I would measure that board’s dimensions years later and learn that it came in at 8”x29”. Upon eventually disassembling it out of teenage boredom, every ply fell apart as if it had been held together only by hope.
I began walking towards where I best remembered the skatepark’s entrance being—my focus only on trying to match my footsteps to those which littered the ground. Their randomness seemed to foretell that any joy I looked to redeem from visiting here would only come by chance.
I stopped, took a picture and watched my breath float away. Traffic on the adjacent roads moved so slow and orderly that it was almost poetic. In the coming months, as daytime temperatures rise above freezing, the earth’s groundwater will thaw and contract, forcing the roads above it to buckle and develop cracks and potholes. For Michigan skateparks, it is only a matter of time until this environmental phenomenon takes its toll on them as well. I suppose the matter of when it finally happens depends on the quality of the concrete and the depth of the skatepark’s foundation itself. If I had to guess, the Ann Arbor skatepark has three to four more years until it starts looking like a Michigan road.
I surveyed a few more spots around the skatepark. With a manual focus lens, and gloves designed to handle nothing more than a spring morning, checking whether or not any of my photos were in focus wasn’t a priority.
I predict that skaters will start migrating back to the park during the second week of March—once most of the winter’s snow has disappeared.