By Darren Lum
The Haliburton County Snowmobile Association is preparing for the 2021 season, hoping sledders take care, heed trail status reports, and for more snow accumulation to open more of its 370 total kilometres of trails.
Right now, the HCSA is dealing with downed trees, laden with snow hindering efforts to open trails in this area.
“We are deeply challenged with blown down trees across the trails. That’s probably OK. Our two biggest challenges is getting the weatherman on our side. Two, clearing our trails,” HCSA vice-president John Enright.
Late last week, Enright estimates 250 trees have been cleared from when a windstorm came through the area close to four weeks ago, a job made more difficult with the snow pulling trees and branches over trails. Despite this challenge, it’s not set back preparations significantly. He added there haven’t been any “big storms” to help with establishing a greater base for trails.
There are currently a few trails open in the Highlands designated limited availability such as the B103, otherwise known as the Haliburton County Rail Trail. This isn’t far off the usual norms for a year though.
Most years, Enright said, the HCSA doesn’t have much trail availability before the first week of January.
“We’re not behind the eight ball. We’re working as hard as we can. Our teams, plural, are out packing and clearing trees, pulling snows in the low spots, hoping it will freeze and when people ride through closed trails this sets us back,” he said.
All of the HCSA personnel, including its five machine groomers, are working to open more trails.
One of which, the groomer for B103 (also Haliburton County Rail Trail) is being designated to have every hour it grooms to translate to $1 donated to the Kelly Shires Breast Cancer Foundation.
This foundation helps provide financial assistance to those recently diagnosed with breast cancer across Canada.
From a Facebook post, Enright said, “it’s our way of giving back to a great organization who help patients cope with this disease. We want to make a difference.”
So far, without a significant storm this season, there is not enough snow accumulation to open more trails.
His message to sledders running closed trails is they risk not only harm to themselves travelling across open water or unfrozen swamps, but also how they can set back preparations.
COVID-19, too, has had has an affect on snowmobiling.
Although the association has not been slowed down by the virus, they have been forced to take steps to reduce the transmission of the virus by having their workers wear masks, signing in and out, washing hands and social distancing while inside their storage garage.
Another area COVID-19 is showing itself is in recommendations for sledders.
Enright adds the situation remains fluid and referenced how a little more than week ago riders weren’t allowed to ride to Muskoka, as trails to that area were categorized red and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit region was yellow related to the COVID-19 designations for restrictions. The province-wide lockdown, initiated on Dec. 26, changed things once again.
Enright referenced the recommendations by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs to remind sledders to stay within their health unit region and embark on essential travel only.
“The best practice is ride within the health unit [region],” he said. “We understand that probably 70 per cent of our ridership is from outside the area, so ride socially appropriate and understand there will be very limited services on Ontario trails this winter.”
The OFSC announced trails to Quebec, Manitoba and the United States are closed.
Enright acknowledges how the activity of snowmobiling itself isn’t a cause for concern related to viral transmission.
“It’s what happens after snowmobiling. People congregate in groups, so practice social distancing and do all things you read in the Echo every week,” he said.
Enright reminds sledders to learn and heed the trail status designations.
“It’s so important that people check for trail availability before setting out and the best way to do that is to go online and look and don’t ride on unavailable, closed trails, because they’re not safe,” he said.
Red means unavailable and that access is prohibited, meaning those entering the property are trespassing. Yellow means limited availability and users understand trails are limited and should be used with “extreme care” and to reduce speed while on them. Green means available, but will vary in terms of quality and terrain. See website (ofsc.evtrails.com/#) for up to date statuses.
Knowledge is power and helps everyone related to the activity.
“It’s about education. We can’t be running to the OPP for everything. They have enough to do,” he said. “They are our enforcement and safety partner, but we need people to cooperate. Check for trail availability, ride accordingly, take it easy and enjoy Haliburton.”