By Chad Ingram
The County of Haliburton plans to host a scaled-down version of the Hike Haliburton Festival this fall.
County councillors discussed options for a festival this year during an April 14 meeting. Last year, the popular event, which includes a series of guided hikes throughout the county each September, was cancelled by council amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During last week’s meeting, tourism director Amanda Virtanen presented council with three options regarding a festival this fall.
One was to host the full-scale festival, complete with marketing and a printed program. Virtanen said it would entail extra costs because of sanitization requirements, the need for personal protective equipment, etc. With dozens of people per hike, Virtanen also said there could be logistical issues with maintaining physical distancing.
“If social distancing is still in place in September, we would have hikers spread up to 200 feet,” she said.
While hosting the festival typically involves seeking sponsorships from businesses, with the pandemic walloping the tourism industry, Virtanen said no sponsorships would be sought, but added some local businesses have still volunteered to provide sponsorships.
The cancellation of last year’s festival meant that $37,500 that had been budgeted for in the county’s expenses was moved into a reserve.
The second option was a scaled-down version of the festival, which Virtanen said she was calling Hike Haliburton “Light,” which would include fewer hikes with fewer spaces on each hike, and less advertising and promotional material.
“The options would allow us to control regulations,” she said, adding a smaller event would also be easier to cancel, should the dynamics of the pandemic mean the event would need to be halted.
The third option was the outright cancellation of the festival.
“I must say the first time I read this, I thought, let’s cancel it,” said Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy. However, Kennedy said he feared cancelling the event two years in a row would interrupt its momentum, adding he ultimately supported the idea of a smaller festival, which he noted would be easier to cancel if required.
“It’s more nimble,” he said.
The bulk of councillors agreed.
“I’d hate to see just cancelling it,” said Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell, noting the festival was five months away and that with COVID-19 vaccinations underway across the province, hopefully it would be able to proceed.
“The ability to cancel has got to be understood,” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen.
The festival is scheduled to take place Sept. 16 through 19.