Park in Birch Hills wins $20,000 prize

Kathy Evans and Clint Knutson celebrate with local kids shortly after learning the skate park had won the $20,000 award. Arthur White-Crummey/Canadian Press

Years ago, there was tension in Birch Hills.

The town’s skateboarders would hang around in the middle of the street, blocking traffic. They’d sometimes swear at people who got in their way.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back, was when they were skating around the school and they would fly out into traffic,” said local resident Kathy Evans. “It was bad.”

Evans is involved with the RYSC youth group, which had a plan to make peace in Birch Hills. They set up a skatepark on a hill just outside of town.

“These kids just wanted to skate,” she said.

On Wednesday’s the youth group’s project, which also includes a basketball court and a community garden, was recognized with a $20,000 award. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the bank Tangerine gave out the money to five community projects across Canada.

Pastor Clint Knutson, whose church is closely connected to the youth group, said that it’s humbling to be selected out of nearly 400 nominees.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” he said. There are a lot of groups that could have used it, but I’m very thankful.”

Knutson and Evans joined scores of their neighbours on the skate park to await the announcement, which the bank broadcast over Facebook live. The good news prompted cheers, fist pumps and much rejoicing.

Knutson said the money will help pay for plans to install a gazebo in the park and will fund more community events, like barbecues and outdoor church services. They’re also planning to put in new bathrooms.

“We kind of use it to connect with people,” he said. “Our hope is to connect families.”