Tourism initiative in Almaguin getting mixed reactions

·3 min read

Almaguin Community Economic Development (ACED) may have a tough time selling a tourism initiative to municipal councils in a COVID environment.

ACED has put together Staycation Almaguin, a program where Almaguin residents do their tourism travelling within the region, since COVID-19 is likely to continue curtailing or restricting visits to other destinations.

Among other goals, Staying Almaguin is trying to help local businesses and events impacted by COVID by getting Almaguin residents to take part in community events and activities.

Staycation Almaguin would see virtual events as well as activities where social distancing is maintained.

It would avoid any event where large gatherings are involved.

Some of the ideas contained in the proposal include musicians performing virtually, arts and crafts activities, culinary and dance.

Staycation Almaguin is intended to run from May 1 to Oct. 9 and ACED is asking the member Almaguin municipalities to kick in $1,900 apiece as their contribution.

ACED adds for the initiative to be effective it needs widespread regional support but that may be difficult to achieve.

The proposal has been making its way to the various municipal councils as March draws to a close.

South River council didn't make a decision one way or the other, Sundridge council voted against the proposal 3-2 while Burk's Falls council was 100 per cent on board.

“It has some merits,” said Burk's Falls Coun. John Wilson.

Burk's Falls municipal clerk Nicky Kunkel says the municipality can use COVID-19 relief money to pay for its share of the contribution, a point ACED made to the municipal councils in its proposal.

However, Sundridge council had a tough time buying into the proposal.

“They (ACED) hit the nail on the head with this one,” said deputy mayor Shawn Jackson.

“But I'm conflicted because for me this is what I expected to see from the start and where the focus was going to be (from ACED).”

Every year, the member municipalities each contribute a set amount of money to ACED to help with its activities and Jackson wondered why this annual financial contribution wasn't being used and why ACED was coming back to the communities asking for more money.

Coun. Barbara Belrose agreed ACED should not be coming back to the municipalities for more money.

“I agree we have to do major things to bring people to the area, but I don't think we have to keep coughing up (money) in order to do it,” she said.

“We've already given enough money and it should be enough to cover it.”

Belrose said she ran “hot and cold” on the initiative because “we have to do what we can to promote the area and help businesses get back on their feet” but she didn't like that ACED was asking for more money.

Despite her misgivings, Belrose voted to support the Staycation Almaguin proposal as did Mayor Lyle Hall.

Hall said the proposal was focused on the entire Almaguin region, adding there would be spin-offs.

Hall was aware that not all member municipalities may support the initiative but said “from my point of view, (ACED) is doing what they need to do.”

“I understand that on some things they need more money and this may be one,” Hall said.

Coun. Stephen Rawn found it difficult to support the measure because it seems the request for more money from ACED is never ending.

“It's $1,900 now and then $1,900 another time and it goes on,” Rawn said.

When it came down to the vote, Rawn voted against supporting the proposal as did Councillor Steve Hicks and Jackson resulting in the motion being defeated 3-2 .

There are a total of 14 communities in Almaguin Highlands.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget