The ice skating trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park has become a victim of its own success, Huntsville’s Economic Development Committee learned on October 1.
The ice trail, which meanders through 1.3 kilometres of forest and is lit up at night with the help of tiki torches, making the ice sparkle and exuding warmth on the coldest of winter nights, has become a major attraction for an increasing number of locals and visitors to the area.
Last winter the park, which also offers snow-shoeing, tubing and cross-country skiing, attracted 20,000 non-skiing visitors, the committee learned.
The trail was built in 2011 by park assistant superintendent John Leadstone, and news of the trail, which is presumed to be the longest in Ontario, has been spreading.
“It appears to have been a huge economic boon to the area,” committee chair Bob Stone told Doppler. “I think there are a lot of people throughout the winter in Toronto for example that say, ‘hey I learned about this cool skating through the woods in Huntsville. Let’s go up there,’ and they do. They come spend the weekend and everybody wins,” he said.
But park staff has been finding it difficult to manage the increased visitors and demands on the park, especially as the ice rink is viewed as a secondary facility.
The success of the ice trail “has led to a conflict between the Arrowhead JackRabbit Ski Club users and the trail ice-skaters insofar as the heavy demand by the ice trail users is creating a jam up at the entrance. And there isn’t enough staff to maintain the ski trails and the ice skating trail,” states a report submitted to committee by one of its members, Morgan Earl.
“At an informal meeting with John Leadstone, the originator of the trail, we learned … the challenges the trail operation presents: the lack of any official operating budget, the double duty of road clearing, parking lot management and ice maintenance puts a strain on personnel and equipment,” states the report.
Some of the recommendations in the report, as far as supporting the facility from a municipal standpoint, include expanding municipal snow plowing into the park; loaning the park portable buildings to be used as warm-up areas and helping the park sell park passes and provide skate rentals in town in order to ease bottleneck traffic congestion at the park’s gate.
Stone said the committee is looking at ways it can help Arrowhead Provincial Park with its success from an economic development standpoint. He said he’s been in contact with the park’s superintendent and a meeting is being scheduled. He said Explorers’ Edge, tasked with promoting tourism opportunities in the area, has also been in contact with the park.
“Hopefully collectively we can improve the service that they’re offering,” said Stone.
The park charges $16 per vehicle for a day of skating. It officially opens December 18 for the winter season.