Not much for kids to do in Grand Manan, N.B., so they built their own all-wheel park

Three children wearing helmets and colourful T-shirts and shorts stand on a playground. Two are holding skateboards while one holds a scooter. 9 August 2022 08:19 AM: Kids like Summer Haynes, 9, Anthony Haynes, 6 and Skyler Mott, 11, are enjoying a summer of skateboarding, scootering, and biking at the new all-wheel park on Grand Manan. (Julia Wright /CBC)

Avery Shewfelt, 7, just mastered the bunny hop: a scooter trick that involves lifting your body, and your scooter, off the ground at the same time. 

"I just got this, like, a few weeks ago," he said, showing off his blue-and-silver ride. "I can't jump yet — but I can do this."

Avery isn't the only kid picking up new skills this summer on Grand Manan, an island community just off the New Brunswick mainland. 

The new skater-designed all-wheel park — conceived, fundraised and used almost entirely by kids — is just about finished.

A young man balances himself on a skateboard as it crests near the top of a ramp.
Grand Manan skateboarder Eric Kaffine rides the halfpipe. (Julia Wright/CBC)

And it's getting rave reviews from the very kids it was built for. 

"This is actually my favourite place on Grand Manan," said skateboarder Summer Haynes, 9.

The skateboard, scooter and bike park is big news for more than 300 kids living on the island, the majority of whom attend Grand Manan Community School — the island's only K-12 school, just 1.5 kms down Route 776. 

Halfpipe dream

Free, publicly accessible recreation isn't always easy to find for kids growing up in rural communities. 

The idea for a skate park on Grand Manan started with 11-year-old Cooper Bokkers. 

A young child sits on a scooter while holding the handles. Behind, two older children are playing.
Kids of all ages and skill levels are welcome at the part, located just down the road from the island's only K-12 school. (Julia Wright /CBC)

According to his mom, Natasha Bass, Cooper came home from a day of skateboarding with friends in St. George, and lamented that the island, population 2,400, didn't have one of its own. 

Cooper's mom suggested that instead of complaining to her, he should write a letter to the village council. Council then challenged Cooper and the other kids on the island to raise $10,000 to make it happen. 

"We put our heads together and started fundraising," says Bass, who also credits good friends Ryan and Austin Calder and their mom, Alyssa Calder, for their help with the project. 

A handwritten letter in a child's writing.
After village council approved of the idea, it was up to kids like Cooper Bokkers to raise $10,000. He and the rest of the kids started canvassing local businesses, who answered the call. (Submitted by Natasha Bass)

Thanks to private donations from the local community, local businesses and government grants, the project surpassed its original fundraising goal of $10,000. 

Construction started in summer 2021.

Designed by skaters

Lifelong skateboarder Sean Doucet, who grew up in the Saint John area and lived in British Columbia before moving to Grand Manan in 2021, stepped up to act as volunteer advisor, designer and builder for the park. 

Doucet's goal was something more user-friendly than the former skate park built on the island over a decade ago. It was not well used, and ultimately fell into disrepair before being decommissioned. 

Fishing vessels rest in a harbour of a coastal town.
Grand Manan is beautiful, but kids on the island complained there wasn't enough for them to do. (Julia Wright/ CBC)

Doucet worked on a more user-friendly design and started sourcing the materials. A local construction company, Dutchmen Contracting Ltd., paved the site and moved the heavy ramps. The local Home Hardware store offered discounted materials. 

"I haven't been to many places in the world where the community can come together and actually, truly, genuinely care about just doing it — not for profit. Just to help the community," Doucet said. 

Grand Manan raised $10,000 for this skate park

3 hours ago

Duration 2:44

A lifelong skateboarder's design for a Grand Manan skate park helps kids get better over time.

The new park reuses some concrete components from the old park, but includes ramps of various sizes and difficulties, a halfpipe, ledges, boxes and rails, all geared toward skaters, cyclists and scooters.

In skateboarding culture, Doucet said, "people are extremely supportive of each other. One person could be, you know, the best skateboarder in the world, whatever. They're doing a really difficult trick, people cheer them on. Then next thing you know, somebody that isn't as talented — people are cheering them on exactly the same amount if they're just doing what they're learning at that time. 

A man uses a circular saw on a piece of wood.
Lifelong skateboarder Sean Doucet, who grew up in the Saint John area and now lives on the island, volunteered his time to design and build the park. (Julia Wright/CBC)

"It's incredible. It helps you with life, and encouraging people: doesn't matter if you're good or bad. You're just doing something that brings you joy."

Team sports aren't for everyone, Doucet pointed out.

"Coming to a place like this, they're all doing an individual thing, but they can come together."

Kids on the island first came to village council with the idea, successfully fundraised for it, and now are out in droves this summer putting the park to good use. (Julia Wright/CBC)

Doucet estimates between 15 and 70 kids use the park on peak days. Skateboards are free to sign out at the community centre. 

'Get out and do something'

Mom Cassandra Haynes says it's made a huge difference for her three children. 

"They love it," she said. "Before we had a skate park, there wasn't much for them to do. Now they're here all the time with their friends. It varies in ages, from toddler to teenagers, so it's [interaction between] all different age groups of kids."

Seeing the park almost completed is "pretty cool," said Bass.

Two boys use their scooters to ride down a ramp.
Scooter kids Avery Shewfelt, 7, and Anthony Haynes, 6, try out some ramps on a beautiful summer evening. (Julia Wright/CBC)

"It's nice to see your kids learn about the importance of taking action to get what they want, versus sitting back and waiting for something to happen. Just get out and do it — don't complain to me about it. Get out and do something."

The next step, Doucet says, it installing a large feature called a "fun box," which has a rail on the top and ledges on the sides, and an upper-deck feature with stairs, a handrail and ledges.

The entire park will be complete by fall 2022, he said. 

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