Pearl Jam supports Wis. skate parks

The Save the Turf Foundation is working to preserve and restore what's left of the Turf Skatepark in Greenfield, Wis. Save the Turf Foundation

Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament is supporting two Wisconsin-based skate park projects -- the Save the Turf Foundation and Tosa Skateboarders United -- through a Wishlist Foundation fan fundraiser on Friday in conjunction with the band's 20th anniversary shows this weekend in East Troy, Wis.

"The Wishlist Foundation continues to blow our minds with their massive efforts in supporting the organizations that we love," Ament says. The foundation is a grassroots, fan-based non-profit, separate from the band's own Vitalogy Foundation, and hosts pre-concert fundraiser events as the band tours around the world, directing money to local organizations that Pearl Jam's fans and band members support.

Ament, a lifelong skateboarder, has lent his support to a number of other skate park projects over the past 20 years, including the Missoula Skatepark, which opened in 2006 near his second home in Montana. "In a time when alternative programs are being pulled left and right, supporting the arts and sports programs are more important than ever. Since skateboarding is both art and sport, building skate parks in Wisconsin is my choice. Long live Tosa & the Turf!"

The Save the Turf Foundation is working to preserve and restore what's left of the Turf Skatepark in Greenfield. The park -- first opened in 1979, closed in 1982, and reopened from 1987 to 1996 -- featured five iconic concrete bowls that have since been filled in with dirt and gravel. And while the original buildings have been demolished, it turns out the bowls themselves are still in decent shape under all that rubble ... for the moment.

Local skaters, with the help of some high-profile supporters (including Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, and even Greenfield mayor Michael Neitzke), have been lobbying to have the skate park protected and are hoping to use the recently rediscovered original blueprints for the park to help restore it to its former glory, but they're in the middle of a battle with city officials and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which had planned to use the site for construction of a new freeway ramp. The Turf bowls are among the only remaining examples of the '70s-era concrete skate park terrain that has helped shape modern skateboarding. Ament says he thinks they're worth protecting.

"The Turf represents a special moment in skateboarding history and it was such a unique place that so many people were a part of," says Save The Turf spokesman Andy Powers. "Every person who ever went there got a membership card and became a member of the family. It was a super fun place to skate. Everything's up in the air and nobody knows yet what the fate of the bowls will be. We need to do everything in our power to protect the integrity and history of this skatepark and keep this dream alive."

Tosa Skateboarders United is a proposed $650,000 project to bring a concrete bowl and modern skate plaza-style public park to Wauwatosa. The city has agreed to provide space for the skatepark in Hart Park, but left fundraising for its design and construction to local skaters, who have been working on it since 2007.

"It's been difficult raising that last bit of money needed to get this thing finished in this economy," says Tosa president Ron Grimm. "To be recongized by Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam and the Wishlist Foundation as a worthy cause is a real honor and a real validation of the work my son and I and a lot of good people here in this community have put into making this skate park a reality. We're hoping this fundraiser will provide the last kick in the butt we need to get it done."

Friday's event, at Hemingway's in Lake Geneva (N3270 County Highway H), includes a silent auction featuring items donated and autographed by Ament, his Pearl Jam bandmates and other supporters. Funds raised at the event will also go to support other organizations, including Advocacy for Patients With Chronic Illness, Guitars in the Classroom, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Camp Hope and Honor Flight.