With files from Dawn Huddlestone and Don McCormick
On Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, the Town of Huntsville held an open house in the Active Living Centre between the hours of 1-3 and 6-8 p.m. The subject for discussion was the proposed run route for the Ironman 70.3 Muskoka triathlon.
Senior Town staff, representatives from TriSport, the company organizing the event, Mayor Karin Terziano and members of council were present to answer questions from community members.
There have been 12 different run courses over the past 13 Ironman events in Huntsville, all involving some disruption to members of the community. Last year’s run course, which included Main Street, caused traffic snarls for motorists in downtown Huntsville.
One of the options for 2020 includes the complete closure of Brunel Road from Park Drive to North Mary Lake Road. The full road closure “sent up a few red flags,” says Mayor Karin Terziano.
The open house was an opportunity for residents, especially those on or near Brunel Road who would be most affected by a full road closure, to voice their concerns and get their questions answered, according to Terziano. When asked about the type of feedback she received, she said, “A little bit of both. There were residents who said they were okay with this. They said they understood the importance of the event for the town. There were concerns about emergency vehicles and people being able to get to work and church.”
The Town’s manager of sales and customer service, Greg Pilling, said that he, too, had heard both concerns about the event as well as support for it from people who attended the open house.
“The biggest concern that I’ve been hearing is people are concerned for their own personal safety from an emergency services point of view—are fire, police and ambulance going to be able to get through. Those provisions are all in place,” he said, adding that emergency vehicles would have clear sailing once they’re in the closure area because race rules state that athletes must move to the side of the road and let them pass or they risk being disqualified. He also noted that people in an emergency situation would be able to leave their homes.
Pilling acknowledged that some residents are not pleased about the prospect of being unable to leave or access their homes during the full closure, which would last almost four hours.
“It is very challenging [and] Ironman is very concerned about that,” he said. “But there are only so many ways out of the Summit Centre.” The size and scope of the event means that it must be held in a location that is near water for the swim course, has a good-quality paved road for the bike course and access to suitable terrain for the run course. It must also have a large parking area for a transition zone that can accommodate 1,800 athletes coming in and out.
“The hope is that we’re going to alleviate the congestion downtown,” said Pilling.
If the Brunel closure is approved by council, Pilling said Town staff and TriSport will work on securing a location where those displaced due to the race could get something to eat and drink, “so that you have a place to go if you’re stuck in town with nothing to do and just trying to fill time.”
Prior to the open house, the proposed run route had been adjusted slightly to reduce the number of people unable to leave their immediate community or home. The route proposed initially would have affected 491 residences, but that number has been reduced to close to 300 with a shift along North Mary Lake Road that will allow residents in that area to go south on Brunel Road.
Nick Stoehr, the owner of Trisport, the company that organizes the event, explained why, with the new proposed run route, that section of Brunel Road would need to be fully closed.
“There’s a window between 9:30 and 1:00 where the bikes will be coming back up Brunel from 117 to the Summit Centre. During that same time period, we will have runners that will be running down Brunel to North Mary Lake Road and back,” said Stoehr, adding that one lane of Brunel will be dedicated to bikes while the other will be for runners travelling in both directions. “With 1,800 athletes, between 10 and 12 there’s going to be a lot of people on the road… For the safety of residents, athletes, anybody that’d be on the course, we’re asking for that closure.”
As for the timing of the event, Stoehr said that due to both the Ironman schedule and athlete availability, July is the ideal timing. “From an Ironman perspective, July is the date that fits into the North America and global schedule,” he said and added that many athletes will use the event as an opportunity for a “race-cation” with their families, staying in the area for up to a week after the race.
The first Muskoka Triathlon was held in 1989 and that makes this event one of the oldest triathlons in Canada. It became an Ironman-branded race in 2010 and was one of the first Ironman-branded races in North America. It is the marquee race in the Subaru Triathlon Series and is popular with the triathletes according to Stoehr—this year the race was capped at 1,800 athletes and it sold out in six weeks, the fastest ever. Athletes tend to bring friends and/or families along with them to this race, so Stoehr is expecting about 5,000 people to be coming to town for the event.
Local residents Kim and Hal Brophy attended the evening session of the open house. They live on Britannia Road, south of the proposed Brunel closure. They spoke with both Town staff and TriSport representatives to understand “what some of the pain points are and then what are some of the mitigation strategies around that, and to be honest I’ve been pretty satisfied with how they’re going to address the issues,” said Kim.
She said that despite the inconvenience of the closure, she supports the event. “I think that we need to find a way to come together and work through some of the tensions around the route so that we can support this type of world-class event in our town. I think it’s good for all of us.”
As an athlete herself, Kim said that community support “can really make or break a race and and the experience that you have as a participant, as a family member that’s supporting an athlete, but also as a volunteer…When you go into a town and the town is behind it, it’s such a nice vibe—it makes for such a positive experience. I think it showcases the town and role models to others, you know, how you can be involved in sport and makes this more accessible to others. And I think that everyone benefits when everyone can get behind this kind of event.”
Other attendees from earlier in the day expressed concerns about the number of people affected by the closure—with one noting that some of the affected properties are multi-residential—and the timing of the event, as well as why a non-emergency, non-construction event should be allowed to close a major road.
Others noted the positive economic impact of the event, estimated at more than $1 million.
The Town of Huntsville contributes $25,000 each year toward the $100,000 licensing fee for the event plus in-kind contributions of an additional $25,000 to support the event, including use of the Canada Summit Centre. Trisport spends between $40,000-50,000 locally on incidentals to organize the event, and contributes about $10,000 to local volunteer organizations who help out.
Council will vote on the proposed road closure at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 24.
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