Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kids Wait for Fun in Knowlton

By Alex Roslin

Brome County News

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One weekday night in early July, the Lions Park was the place to be in Knowlton. Four soccer and baseball games and a rugby practice were under way.

The park was a beehive of activity, except for one little corner—a lone set of swings off to one side. Here, a lineup of toddlers stood waiting for a spot on the lone piece of playground equipment available for the little ones.

The swings are all that’s left after Knowlton’s only public playground for preschoolers was mostly dismantled last year. A single jungle gym was set up at the far end of the park, half a kilometre away, where it now stands by itself behind the community centre—a long walk from the sports fields.

The situation has parents talking about a lack of playground facilities in Knowlton. “I really hate to complain because Knowlton does a lot of good things for families, but giving families things to do is important,” said Shannon McGovern, mother of Jack, 6, and Allie Quinn, 2.

“In past years, it was nice because older kids at the Lions Park could play sports while the younger kids were at the playground. It’s nice to be able to take the whole family.”

Other parents agree. “Now, when there is rugby or soccer in the Lions Park, if people bring little kids, there’s nothing for them to do,” said Sarah Lenz, mother of Phoenix, 4, and Hunter, 3.

Some parents say the lack of playground equipment runs counter to the town’s efforts to attract and retain young families. Brome Lake launched a family policy last December in an attempt to reverse a seven-percent decline in the number of households with kids between 2001 and 2006.

The decline has prompted concern about plummeting school enrollment and “psychosocial problems among youth,” the policy said.

Parents praised the policy, but many said a key problem remains—the town lacks kid-friendly areas where families can meet and hang out, like public playgrounds. They said one spot with a lot of potential, Coldbrook Park, is often underused, in part because it lacks facilities.

“One of the best things the town could do would be to promote a little more child-friendliness in the village,” said Shannon Brown, mom of Jane Marlo, 3. “The very best place where you could see a lot of people meeting is Coldbrook Park.”

Lenz agreed: “They should do more to get families to come downtown and shop. There’s room in the corner of the park for a little playground.”

The problems extend to some events planned in the village, which often don’t include a kids’ component like face-painting or games, Lenz said. “It wouldn’t take much to add a little kids’ fun.”

Last March, the Brome Lake Recreation and Community Services department got the town council’s okay to spend a $45,000 surplus on playground equipment in the Lions Park. But the department says that’s not enough for three new pieces of equipment it is considering adding by year’s end—swings, a climbing apparatus and preschooler games.

However, Jambette Playground Equipment, one of Canada’s leading playground equipment makers, says $40,000 would be enough for swings ($2,400), a climbing apparatus ($12,300) and games like a tether ball, seesaw and a half-dozen animal-themed spring rockers, including delivery, installation, landscaping with kid-friendly woodchips and taxes.

There’d even be money left over for a new jungle gym at the other end of the park, nearer to the sports fields, especially if the town chips in its own employees to reduce landscaping costs.

Parents interested in working on park issues and family events can email

Park Facilities Vital: Officials

Business leaders and other prominent community members say Knowlton needs more kid-friendly facilities if it hopes to attract young families.

Parents are pressing the town to set up more playground facilities where families can meet up.

“Of course such facilities are needed,” said Jacques Lecours, a retired urban planner who is president of Brome Lake’s Rues Principales committee, which is working on revitalizing Knowlton and neighbouring villages. “If the town is serious about attracting young families, it has to develop such facilities.”

Joëlle Chartrand, general manager of the Brome Lake Chamber of Commerce, praised the town’s community services department for its “good work,” but said its new playground behind the community centre is in an area that is “a little less accessible and visible.”

“There is a lack of recreational spaces for young families,” said Pierre Marchand, a business owner in Knowlton who plans to run for mayor in the coming Nov. 1 election. “To encourage young families to come, we need spaces like this.”

Marchand said he grew up in Thetford Mines, where the town “didn’t do much for young families. It’s a town that is dying.”

Marchand called Coldbrook Park the “heart of the village,” but he said it is “underused.” He said a citizens’ committee could be formed to consider ways to do more with the park to make it more of a meeting place for families.

“It should be developed so it will naturally encourage people to go there. This will help the merchants.”

Shannon McGovern, a parent and teacher in Knowlton, said families “do have tremendous support in this town. I’m sure if we did some interesting fundraising [for park equipment], people would make donations. I don’t think it would be a huge undertaking.” - A.R.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Frustration Over Knowlton Park Delays

By Alex Roslin

Brome County News

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bill Watson’s daughters spent so much time at the old playground in the Knowlton Lion’s Park, it was almost a second backyard. The Watsons went there regularly for family outings and to walk their dog Winston. They celebrated birthdays there.

When Bill or his older daughter came to play soccer in the park, his wife could tag along with their younger girl and hang out by the swings and jungle gym.

The Watsons were heartbroken last year when the playground was dismantled as part of a plan to create a new play area behind the Centre Lac Brome community centre half a kilometre away.

“We were really sad when they dismantled it. I told the kids, ‘Don’t worry, they’re going to put it back,’” Watson said.

They’re still waiting.

A year later, the new playground behind the community centre still features only a lone jungle gym in a large open field dotted with several short saplings and a few scattered picnic tables.

Knowlton’s only public playground for preschoolers has no swings, teeter-totter, climbing apparatus, sitting benches or drinking fountain.

And that has parents like Watson frustrated. “It’s ironic that the town has this family policy, but there’s nowhere for kids to go now,” he said.

Some parents are talking about forming a group to seek better park facilities, raise funds for equipment and ask questions during this fall’s municipal election.

“When my daughter and I go to the new playground, there are hardly ever other children there,” said one of the parents, Shannon Brown.

“Having more games would bring more kids. I would love to see swings, trees that give some shade, a wading pool. Every park has swings.”

Back in March, the Lac Brome Recreation and Community Services department got approval from the town council to spend a $45,000 surplus on playground equipment at the new site. But those plans have been delayed by preparations for summer camp and the opening of Douglass Beach, said Johanne Morin, the department’s executive director.

The facilities are also on hold while the department works out a long-term plan for the entire park. The department has a “very rough” plan for the park for the next five years or so, but specific details need to be worked out, Morin said. “We realize it’s a priority for families.”

Morin would like to use the $45,000 for swings, a climbing apparatus or extra equipment for preschoolers, but she said the amount isn’t enough for all three elements.

And it’s still not clear when any of it would go up. “I’m hoping by the end of the year,” Morin said. She said the old playground was dismantled because most of the equipment was out-of-date.

But with another summer well under way, the slow progress is provoking frustration. “By the time they finish the park, our kids will be too old to use it,” Watson says. “If they weren’t going to do something at the new site, why didn’t they just leave the old equipment there?”

Knowlton dad Chris Pagé hopes to be able to contribute in a small way. This weekend, he and another father, Matt Willey, are organizing a ball hockey tournament at the skating rink, with proceeds going to the community centre for the park.

“There is a lot of potential for the park,” Pagé said. “But my daughter is getting to be the age where she is enjoying the park, and it would be nice to see more facilities there for her.”

Parents interested in working on park issues and family events can email