Living near a snowmobile trail, Linda Middleton has concerns about the traffic she sees at the gas station across from her.
The Harcourt resident said she frequently sees snowmobilers “shoulder to shoulder,” gathering in a way that appears to flout public health protocols. Based on the exit traffic she sees on Sunday, she believes some of them are coming from out of the area - a definite protocol violation.
“It’s pretty scary,” she said. “It would be extremely scary for our people who work in stores and restaurants. Anything that’s open at all. Having to be extremely careful. Too many people that are coming and going out of red zones.”
Haliburton is filled with snowmobiling traffic at this time of year, raising concerns about the usually tourism-driving recreation. The province is permitting the activity under its stay-at-home order. But snowmobilers are not supposed to travel outside their district, according to health units and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC).
That rule has not been enough in some areas. The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit shut down its trails to everyone Jan. 21 due to complaints about people travelling from elsewhere to use them.
Haliburton County Snowmobile Association (HCSA) vice-president John Enright said the club is busy working on trails. He added snowmobiling is a good way to recreate and though rest stop gatherings can be concerning, restaurants and other amenities being closed should limit them.
“I don’t think there’s a better recreation that offers social distancing than snowmobiling. Everyone is apart,” Enright said.
He said some could be travelling to Haliburton from larger centres within the district, which is allowed. Beyond that, it is hard to tell.
“Out-of-town traffic is unknown,” Enright said. “It’s a very, very hard thing to measure.”
Still, Enright said individual clubs and the OFSC are urging snowmobilers to follow the rules.
“All we can do is ask. We can’t order people to do that. We hope they are,” he said. “I believe everyone, or most, are doing the right thing. But it only takes one. And you know, we’re in such uncharted waters.”
HKPR medical officer of health, Dr. Ian Gemmill, said Jan. 20 he does not intend to close local trails but rules should be obeyed.
“I would ask people to follow the spirit of the stay-at-home orders,” Gemmill said.
Enright said the club will respect the decisions of public health experts. But he added people need to be able to get outside.
“We’re in an area with not a lot of cases. People can’t be cooped up indoors all winter. They get cabin fever,” he said.
Middleton said she has no issue with locals snowmobiling – just those travelling from out of the area to do so in Haliburton. She added there should be another way to address it than closing trails.
“I don’t know what the answer is. I think that people just need to follow the rules.”
Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander