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A Mother’s Grind: Behind the Scenes at the Appleton Skate Park

AP_Hans-Brehorst-w-Dakota-WhiteBy Tyler Sjostrom

Once you’ve met Keevie Bremhorst, the one-woman dynamo who willed the just-opened Appleton Skate Park into existence, it’s impossible not to recall the reputation that precedes her. No less a legend than former BMX pro Dave Freimuth describes her as “crazy in a good way” and a “force of nature,” while Appleton Alderman Joe Martin states plainly, “This park doesn’t happen without Keevie.”

After six years, countless planning meetings and at least a dozen non-starts, the Appleton Skate Park has finally cut ribbon at Telulah Park, and most of the resulting dirt can be found under the fingernails of this charismatic wife and mother of three.
But the story of the Appleton Skate Park, and Keevie’s involvement in its genesis is more than a little-engine-that-could tale or a 90-minute Sandra Bullock movie. It’s a civics lesson, a victory for rock-ribbed moms the world over and, perhaps more than anything else, the literal concrete evidence of a generational shift in culture.

Shifts like the one found at Telulah Park don’t happen overnight, and that’s why it’s important to understand the circumstances that allowed for its creation. In the mid ‘90s, as skateboarding and BMX made the move from the suburban pools and greased curbs of the world and into our living rooms by way of ESPN’s X Games and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game series, the Fox Valley generated a skating and BMX community of its own. Led by the profane and profoundly talented Baco Boyz BMX group, the Valley saw a surge in all-wheel skateparks such as Undercover Skate Park and Area 51, pulling many long-time riders away from the aging outdoor venues where the movement had originated.

As was the case with many privately-owned skateparks of the early-to-mid aughts, the noble intentions of Undercover and Area 51 proved to be dreams not worthy of their dreamers. Running a successful skatepark with private backing is hard; liability insurance is comically expensive, and the funds needed to keep it afloat — namely, admission fees and apparel sales — are impossible to predict. When the local skateparks began shuttering in the late 2000’s this led to a situation that was the proverbial stick in the spoke for the area’s riders: the private parks had dried up, and the public ones were, to quote Bremhorst, “either in shambles or hours away.”

AP_Credit_Chris-Rye-at-propsbmx.com.The local private parks were gone, of course, but the riders who needed them weren’t. One such rider was Hans Bremhorst — nationally recognized skater, fixture of the Fox Valley scene and amiable offspring of one Keevie Bremhorst. Hans’ emergence as a credible talent, cemented by early skate sessions with legends such as Shaun White and a visit to Bob Burnquist’s backyard park, coincided with the closure of several of the area’s parks. In short order, this glaring need fed a desire in his mother, and the “Friends of the Appleton Skate Park” group was formed. The group’s goal, put in writing in its first proposal to the city, was aimed at opening a public skatepark in two years.

The proposal was first sent to the city in May of 2009.

Ask Bremhorst exactly what transpired in the ensuing six years, and it’s impossible not to see the fire in her eyes begin to flicker and wane. It’s a look of bemusement, one that speaks to the innumerable hours that led her here. The initial steps of the process were filled with optimism, even if they weren’t particularly productive from a tangible standpoint.

“The first referendum, when it passed,” Keevie said “it didn’t necessarily mean that they were going to build the park. It only meant that they would consider it — that they would look closely at costs and locations to see if it was even possible.”
After scouting eight Appleton locations, each was rejected by the City Council for one reason or another.

With a year of planning and dozens of meetings in her rearview, it appeared to Bremhorst that the project was dead. Over the next two years, the “Friends of Appleton Skate Park” — or ASP, as it had come to be known — essentially became the domain of Keevie and Alderman Joe Martin, who had helped with the initial push to the Appleton City Council. Others came and went, with Bremhorst and Martin — “The wind beneath my wings,” she muses — fighting to keep the dream alive. It wasn’t until 2012, when Dean Gazza became Director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities Management, that the project again had a heartbeat.

“Dean told Joe and me that we were gonna do it,” she explains, the excitement returning to her voice. “And I guess the rest is history.”

If the rest is indeed history, then how did it become this way? Two decades ago, if you’d told me that a housewife-and-Alderman duo would prove unbeatable, or that a city’s parks director would fast-track the construction of a skatepark, I probably could have found some day-old magic beans to sell you. The reality is, the forces that allowed for the creation of the Appleton Skate Park speak to the fact that we’ve learned to understand what so-called “alternative” sports actually are, and what they most certainly are not.

For years, the handwringing over what skating and BMX supposedly represented — disdain for authority, affection for all things punk, the necessity of the D.A.R.E. program — got more than a few ankle-length skirts in a bunch. But the punks grew up, they had kids, and everyone turned out okay. Meanwhile, as many traditional sports have come under fire for everything from hazing to concussions to parental politics, skating and BMX have endured precisely because they exist outside of the traditional paradigm. As an outlet for creativity, few sports offer anything similar. Skate parks, as a community, are incredibly self-policing and inclusive. And, while your neighborhood hockey player or golfer might require taking out a second mortgage and building a second storage shed, your neighborhood skater doesn’t even need a ride to practice.

The June 6th grand opening put all of these disparate themes into sharp focus. All skill levels were represented, from skating forefather Tony Alva down to the skate runts just earning their wheels, and enough father/son combos were in attendance to suggest that Norman Rockwell’s paintings are in pressing need of a 21st-century update. Manning the PA was Russ Roper, a self-described “old punk” and skate dad who arrives most mornings with his board, a leaf blower and broom and who, along with several others used to regularly hop fences and flee cops, acts as de facto park attendant. And, for those who were just there to watch or were enjoying Telulah Park’s other attractions, there was plenty of room for that as well.

It’s this all-are-welcome, cross-generational appeal that made believers out of city leaders such as Dean Gazza and Joe Martin, and that leads Keevie Bremhorst to believe that, six full years after the seed was planted, the best is still ahead for the Appleton Skate Park.

“What would be really great, and what I really hope eventually happens,” she explains, nearly bouncing out of her chair, “is that the community sees what a resource this is — embraces it, helps it grow, supports it. Wouldn’t that be crazy?”

Tyler Sjostrom | www.thepastorskid.net

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