Partnering for rural recreation

In central Alberta, residents aren’t surprised by long, frigid winters. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to stay active and get outdoors during the cold, dark months.

This can be particularly difficult in rural communities, where residents may have to drive long distances on snowy roads to get to recreational amenities. But Clymont Community League, in the heart of Parkland County, is committed to working in partnership to provide access to recreation.

The league owns and operates the Clymont Community Hall and grounds, which is also home to one of their primary partners, the Clymont Playschool. The hall is adjacent to Highway 60, about 20 kilometres west of Edmonton.

Kyla Smale, the Clymont Playschool teacher and a Communities ChooseWell Champion, is one of the significant players in bringing recreation and social events to the area.

“We’re really trying to promote the hall, because there’s not a lot of other options close by,” she says. “We want locals to have somewhere to go in their community.”

One way the groups engage the community is through their annual Winter Skate Festival, an event hosted every Family Day weekend in February.

In 2017, the event started out as a Canada 150 celebration, but was so successful in engaging local families that it’s been brought back every year since. The festival is completely free to attend, as it’s run by volunteers from the playschool, partially funded by a grant from Parkland County, and made possible by the community league donating the hall.

The hall’s grounds include an NHL-size outdoor rink, where families skate. When their toes get numb, they gather around roaring bonfires, take horse-drawn wagon rides or warm up inside with face-painting and crafts. Kyla explains that it’s not just for young families, as many seniors from the community also come out to socialize.

“People can come to the festival and have an outing without it being a full day experience trying to get to the city,” she adds. “There’s not a lot in our area that you can do, at least that’s close, so they find it’s a lot easier to access.”

Though it’s difficult to count, Kyla estimates about 200 to 450 people attend the festival every year. The collaborative effort to host such a successful event was part of the reason the Clymont Community League received a ChooseWell’s Building Community Capacity award in 2019.

And, the community groups don’t just offer a one-year recreational event. Every winter, they work together to keep the hall’s ice rink open 24/7, so local kids and youth can drop by any time for a skate or game of shinny.

The rink, which has outdoor lights and a heated shack, is run by volunteers from the community league and playschool, as well as area residents. They all work together to maintain the rink, and while the county doesn’t directly fund the amenity, they have peace officers drop by to keep an eye on it.

Finally, when Alberta’s long winter finally gives way to warmer weather, the rink transforms into pickleball courts, with the hall offering free equipment for drop-in players and volunteers providing lessons for anyone who wants to learn.

Whatever the season, Kyla says it’s vital to offer accessible recreation opportunities in their community. And a lot of their success is due to partnerships. Her advice to others?

“Reach out. Every group has so much knowledge and advice…Everyone brings something more to the table.”