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Made for Rockford

Daniel Jarrett: Model Rockford Citizen 

Born in 1980 at Rockford Memorial Hospital on the city’s west side to Dr Robert and Cheryl Jarrett, Daniel Jarrett grew up in what he describes as a “middle to upper middle class” environment in which his parents instructed him, “to whom much is given, much is required.” 

He worked hard all his life as a result, trying to make a difference along the way. He attended public  grade school in Rockford, then enrolled in Lutheran High where he was a stand-out basketball player. 

“I kind of owe that to my older brother,” Jarrett joked. “He and his buddies let me play ball with them even though I was so much younger - and way smaller. I learned a lot through that experience. Basically, I grew up with a whole bunch of older brothers, and I have a lot of older brothers to this day.” 

“My childhood in Rockford was awesome. We waterskied and played 3 on 3 basketball all summer,” he said “Rockford was a fantastic place to be a kid and we all loved all four seasons. We were blessed.” 

He learned enough to earn a partial basketball scholarship to NAIA D2 Concordia University in Nebraska, where he majored in Bio Chemistry. 

“I didn’t love the idea of going to school in Nebraska,” said Jarrett. “But I had a good experience and gained enough confidence and independence to take the opportunity that was presented to me to move to New York to work on a career as a model and an actor after my senior year.” 

After graduating from Concordia, Jarrett moved to New York City. There, under the wing of global talent agency Elite (Now Select Model Agency), a successful career was born. 

And, this is where one would normally write, “and, he never looked back.” 

But the truth is he did look back. In 2013, Daniel and his Rockford-born wife Amy and their first two children, Max and Evelyn (both born in NYC) moved back to Rockford to be closer to their respective families - and in the embrace of the young parents’ hometown. 

“We loved New York for a lot of reasons, but we had pretty much had it with having to rent a car every time we wanted to get out of town; and, you know, all the cliche reasons people leave New York. I guess you could say we moved back for all the cliche reasons people move back - to be with family, to spend less money on everyday stuff like housing and groceries, to lead less hassled lives.”  

“But,” Jarrett continued, “it was more than just that. My Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and we wanted to be there for him - and for Mom. Amy had earned her Masters in Math Education while we were in New York. We knew she could teach anywhere. I knew I could travel for modeling and acting with O’Hare so nearby. But I also had a business idea I wanted to pursue, kind of a gift I wanted to share with my hometown.” 

The Jarrett’s boomerang winter of 2013 was a classic, cold, snowy, midwestern winter. “We didn’t see the grass until April,” said Jarret. “And we LOVED it.”   

“One of the great things about living here is we have four very distinct seasons. It never, ever gets old. Another is we’re in the middle of literally everything: from other cities to the great outdoors. I love the outdoors and the terrain around Rockford is epic. Anything you want to do, you can do. We go rock climbing and skiing and waterskiing and wakeboarding all the time.” 

Speaking of waterskiing, let’s get back to that business idea Jarrett said he wanted to try … 

“Modeling takes me all over the world. In Germany, I fell in love with the cable parks people flock to. They don’t have the open water we do here, and that’s how most Europeans enjoy my favorite sports: conveniently, safely and inexpensively - at cable parks.” 

“My dream was to bring a European-style cable park to my hometown. I mean, this is Sportstown USA according to Sports Illustrated Magazine, right? It’s Sportstown USA according to me and a LOT of my friends, including all those big brothers I grew up with, that’s for sure. I knew Rockford deserved a progressive, cool facility like this. Then, a friend told me about Levings Lake on Rockford’s southwest side; and, the rest is history.” 

Well, actually, “the rest” was a lot, as any experienced entrepreneur would tell you. Jarrett found willing partners with the Gold Medal-winning Rockford Park District. He and the Park District deftly and sensitively made sure local neighborhood residents approved of his plan. He put together financing. And, he worked with the renowned German cable system manufacturer Sesitec to build his “proof of concept” initial configuration with 2 single line cables and ramps.

Initially, his riders came almost exclusively from outside the Rockford Region, from midwestern cities like Chicago - and many still come from outside the Rockford Region. In fact, many athletes travel internationally to ride at West Rock. But, the park has built a growing and loyal local following, as well. On any given day, the park’s cables are pulling wobbly beginners and polished professionals. 

“We teach riders from 8 to 78 years old, from all walks of life, Some just want to have fun and others want to devote their lives to the sport,” said Jarrett. “We have a very dynamic, ever-changing layout of ramps - more than most parks in the world. That keeps our local riders ‘stoked’ on progressive change. And, it’s a draw for professional athletes from all over the world who visit to film and ride. West Rock has become a favorite location for filming high-end rider edits.”

Since 2013, when Daniel and Amy boomeranged back to Rockford from New York City, a lot more has happened. They had a third child, Willa. The park added a full 360° cable in 2017. West Rock invested in aeration and a grant obtained by the Rockford Park District helped fund floating bio havens planted with native wetland species to provide shelter for fish and amphibians - and to help remove excess nutrients from Levings Lake. The lake is now a better resource for riders, wildlife and neighborhood fishermen and women. In 2022, Jarrett’s and his team’s hard work and international reputation for excellence were validated when West Rock was named the Wake Park of the Year by the Water Sports Industry Association. 

“When I see Rockford, I see a lot of people hungry to keep getting better, to disprove false rumors and negativity,” said Jarrett. “We do things together here. We help. I could have never gotten West Rock started without the help and encouragement of a long, long list of people - going right back to my parents telling me I owed something back for everything I’ve received.” 

“It’s culture that gives you the ability to believe in yourself and your dreams,” he said. “Culture is what you learn from your family and in your community. Rockford’s culture is pretty scrappy and I love that.”  

When asked what advice he would give other native Rockfordians and midwesterners considering boomeranging back home, Jarrett said, “I would say if you’re going to do it, don’t wait too long. Don’t wait ’til your parents are old. For Amy and me, it was good to go away and start our life together away from home. But, it was just as good to come back. We needed our crew.”  

One thing is certain; the history of West Rock Wake Park, and the lessons imparted to Daniel by his parents Robert and Cheryl, is not even close to being fully written.