Free recreation comes at a cost during pandemic

·4 min read

SHEET HARBOUR – Lily’s Hill, the Sheet Harbour area’s only outdoor skating facility, is celebrating its 10THanniversary this year, while facing financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its main fundraiser, the annual Hillbilly Hockey Tournament, is cancelled and, along with it, goes the $1000 profit that pays the annual utility bills.

A dozen years ago Randall Rutledge and Jody Taker began work on a piece of property they owned that evolved into an outdoor rink and a coasting hill. Using their personal equipment, property and covering all expenses, Rutledge moved the earth from the 11-inch deep rink and molded it into a hill to complete the winter recreation space, where residents have been invited, year after year, to skate and sled – all for free.

The rink and hill, named for their daughter Lily, has become a community meeting place, where hundreds have gathered during the best of winter weather to enjoy outdoor recreation – whether it’s on skates or sleds – or serving hotdogs from the EMO canteen to help raise much needed funds.

Members of the Lily’s Hill Recreation Association sat down with The Journal to lay out their situation. The good news is the group has a bank balance of $11,000 – but the bad news is an outstanding bill for $10,000 in surveying fees. A property line dispute with a neighbouring property necessitated hiring a surveyor.

The association applied for and received a grant of $5,000 through HRM’s Community Grant Program to cover half of the bill. The remainder will be paid from prior donations and other fundraising efforts. The result will be a deficit position for the organization in covering the balance of 2021 expenses due to the loss of the Hillbilly Tournament.

The annual costs of Lily’s Hill have been covered by the visiting teams that pay admission to play. Chili and hotdogs were sold by volunteers, which helped pay utilities and insurance. Over the years donations from businesses and organizations have been used to continually grow the site and enhance the outdoor winter recreation experience.

When Lily’s Hill first came into public use, a board was formed by local volunteers and an association developed. Donations have funded everything from benches, paint and a gazebo to equipment including skates, helmets and sticks. Elicia Crowell, board member, says “It is such a unique place – where people are totally enjoying themselves outdoors and everyone gets along.”

“We rely on the community for support in so many ways,” Taker says. “Our season is weather dependent and we don’t own the equipment to clear the ice, so when it snows, we are on Facebook asking for people to show up with shovels. There is always a window of time before the sun hits to get it cleared and prepped for skating.”

Taker notes the rink and hill are used by all ages and particularly families. “We often have seniors, even with medical issues, who are here participating and also helping out.”

The gazebo is filled with donated skates and equipment and the only request is to return what you use. A drilled well is a dream for the future to provide a secure water supply. Plans for trails for cross country skiing, walking, snow shoeing and mountain biking are in the works, with outdoor recreation and activities in the forefront of planning.

Stewart Lamont, Tangier Lobster Company managing director, paid to have a logo developed for the association. “Lily’s Hill is already a community asset. It has a chance to be a spectacular asset in the future. The keys are introduction and awareness. How best to introduce the community as a whole to the site, and how best to demonstrate incredible potential?” Lamont told The Journal via email.

Candace Mackean, treasurer, speaks to the expenditures incurred over a year, even though it’s a seasonal operation. “It’s $1,900 for insurance and a minimum of $500 for power. Joint Stocks [registration] is $35, and there is an annual spend for shovels, sleds and nets in the vicinity of $500. In past years, we bought lumber and supplies for gazebo improvements and other storage buildings. A number of people make, donate and sell chili and cookies and the ground search and rescue team brings their mobile canteen.”

The loss of these ventures leaves the association looking at a possible summer fundraiser. Penny Farris, board member, explains an idea where participants can buy an actual piece of sod to be laid on the hill. “Having sod covering the sledding hill will not only make it safer for those coasting – it will also preserve the snow on the hill a lot longer during the season.”

Having sod on the hill broadens its use and Taker says, “It will offer a green space where families can come and kick a ball around.”

The idea is to buy the required amount of sod and sell each piece to community members at a bit of a profit. “It’s a win-win situation, really,” says Farris. “We get the hill covered and protected and raise funds at the same time.” The members are researching costs and the number of sods required for the initiative – hoping to complete the project this summer.

Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal