By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors are supporting going ahead with snowshoe festival Hike Haliburton: Winter Edition this February.
Last February saw the inaugural winter version of the county’s popular Hike Haliburton Festival, the latter typically taking place in September and including a series of guided hikes throughout the county. This fall’s festival was cancelled, a decision county councillors made in the spring amid the initial uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, during a virtual Oct. 15 committee-of-the-whole meeting, county councillors unanimously recommended proceeding with the winter edition of the festival, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
A report from tourism director Amanda Virtanen offered three options for councillors’ consideration: holding the festival with COVID-19 safety protocols in place; holding a scaled down version of the festival with fewer people and fewer hikes with COVID-19 protocols in place; or cancelling the festival outright.
“Something else to keep in mind is of course that travel is not encouraged at the moment throughout the process, so if we were to hold the festival, it could be extremely hyper-local activity, which could be a good thing,” Virtanen told councillors.
Councillors were unanimously in favour of hosting the festival.
“I would just add that we know that all reports indicate that increased outdoor activity will continue,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, “we’re certainly seeing that in the Algonquin Highlands Water Trails, is still quite busy right now, despite the weather. Our parks, rec and trails manager is certainly anticipating a robust uptake of snowshoeing and skiing, because you can distance, and you can, you know, get outdoors and be active.”
“I know we made the decision to cancel the Hike Haliburton Festival,” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts. “I just want to say what a great job you [Virtanen] did though of promoting hiking in Haliburton, regardless of not having a festival, and a lot of people are hiking on the open trails.”
“So, in light of that, I think that maybe we could go forward, as long as we meet the COVID protocols,” Roberts continued. “People have to pre-register so we have contact tracing. We know the names and contact [info] of who is going to be on that hike. I think it’s something we should try to go forward with.”
Last year’s snowshoeing festival included 20 guided hikes.
“I think there’s going to be a huge demand for it, and if we try to cut down on the number of hikes, I think we’re just limiting ourselves,” said Dysart Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy.
“I totally agree,” said Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall. “The numbers that I’m getting now are saying that for every three cottages that closed last year, there’s one that’s definitely not closing this year, and that number could be going up.”
Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen wondered if given potentially increased demand, there should be a limited number of participants per hike, with an expanded number of hikes.
“But otherwise, yes, I think we should go full-steam ahead,” Danielsen said.
Virtanen said the average number of participants per hike last year was 15, “which by provincial regulations would still be fine. So we’ll just continue to monitor how many people can be outside, and if we have to limit the numbers or change, then we can do that on the fly.”