/We’ve been depressed: HCSA trail closures

We’ve been depressed: HCSA trail closures

by Thomas Smith

The Haliburton County Snowmobile Association has wrapped up their season. It lasted for eight weeks.

“We’ve been depressed,” says Paul Wilson, treasurer of the Haliburton County Snowmobile Association (HCSA).

“It’s a beautiful day today at the HCSA,” says Neil Vanderstoop. “The sun is shining but the trails are closed.”

Historically, the shortest season they have ever had was in the 70s, says Vanderstoop.

After sending Doug Ford a trail guide, they recently received a thank you letter from the Premier of Ontario.

“The trails were nice for riding, but we kept it yellow, just in case,” says Vanderstoop.”

Yellow meant that the trails were rideable with caution, due to the unpredictable weather and changing conditions.

The HCSA was one of many snowmobiling associations that have had difficulties with maintaining and opening trails this year.

While some trails only opened for one week this season, some in southern Ontario never opened at all, says Vanderstoop.

All of their groomers are now in the shop, waiting to get summarised.

“Groomers are still ready,” says Vanderstoop stoically.

We’d have to be reopening trails from scratch, says Paul Wilson, Treasurer of the HCSA.

Last year, the HCSA opened their trails on Dec. 20th and closed them on Mar. 16th. This year’s snowmobiling season for the HCSA was four weeks shorter than last year’s. It is highly unlikely that the trails will reopen before the spring thaw.

“We were only able to groom half of what our budget allowed,” explains Wilson.

The HCSA has five groomers on standby to service their trails. A dedicated fleet of 16 groomers and three volunteers joined their efforts this season.

Groomers work in the evenings. Starting around 4pm, their shifts take them as late as 2 am.

“I had a 13.5 hour shift doing the northern part,” says Wilson.

Lots of drifting snow and heavy storm cycles contribute to long hours grooming, says Wilson.

“It’s a learned art,” says Vanderstoop.

While many lakes were cleared for use this year, Halls Lake was never staked.

“We didn’t have the confidence in it,” says Vanderstoop.

“We can’t stake a lake until it has eight inches of clear, solid ice,” explains Vanderstoop.

Lakes are still safe to unstake them at the end of the season and the HCSA has strict parameters regarding safety.

“No one’s happy,” says Vanderstoop. “I’ve gone around to different businesses and I’ve done everything I can. It’s tough for everybody.”

Map sales, trail passes, and advertising numbers were quite good this year, regardless of the weather, says Vanderstoop.

While the numbers don’t quite meet the numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, trail passes were likely 10 per cent higher than pre-pandemic numbers, says Vanderstoop.

“We have not stopped,” assures Vanderstoop. “There’s turnover, paperwork that needs to be done, trails to look after, culverts, and bridges, and trails to be fixed.”

To trail pass buyers and businesses, we are not going to let them down, says Vanderstoop. “We’re going to forge ahead.”

“We would like to thank our landowners, our volunteers, and our advertisers,” says Vanderstoop passionately. “Without them, nothing would happen. Especially without the landowners, nothing would happen.”

Throughout the year, the HCSA is looking forward to participating in events such as the Stanhope Airport Fly-In.

Although a date has not been set for the AGM in April, everyone is welcome to attend, volunteer with the HCSA and enquire about job opportunities.

“There’s still lots happening, we don’t get to stop,” assures Vanderstoop.