The North Bay Snowmobile Club is disappointed in the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit’s decision to close snowmobile trails to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Shawn Flindall, director of public relations for the club, says he takes issue with the fact trails are closed to local riders.
“We’re fully supportive in closing the trails to out-of-town riders but we’re really disappointed to hear that affects local riders as well,” Flindall said.
The Health Unit announced Monday that all Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) trails and trails using Crown Land will be closed beginning January 21.
Dr. Jim Chirico, Medical Officer of Health, says the reasoning behind the closure is because there have been instances of people travelling from out-of-region to use the trails.
“I have received many complaints about people travelling from other districts to use the local snowmobile trails, thus putting our district at risk of COVID-19. The OFSC recommends that snowmobilers avoid trailering and travelling to destinations that are outside their health unit region to snowmobile, but people have not taken the direction seriously,” Dr. Chirico said, adding groups of snowmobilers have also been seen congregating without following health protocols.
Flindall, who’s been involved with the snowmobile club for over a decade, says he hasn’t seen instances of people travelling to use local trails.
“I do not see out-of-town riders on our trails. I did prior to the stay-at-home order, but I’m not seeing that anymore. I’m not really sure where the rationale comes from,” he questioned.
Flindall says he would normally see up to 250 riders on the trails before the emergency order came into effect, adding he saw less than 30 on a ride last weekend.
“To restrict a very safe individual outdoor activity because of the concern of people coming up here for non-essential travel is a bit of a curiosity, for sure,” Flindall continued.
The effects of the closure, Flindall says, is a “triple-edged sword” affecting the riders, club volunteers and the businesses that rely on snowmobile traffic.
This all comes as the North Bay Snowmobile Club was anticipating a busy season on its trails.
“Because people can’t travel and snowbirds have stayed at home…a lot of locals have gotten into snowmobiling or gotten back into snowmobiling,” he noted.
The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit is the first to issue a trail closure for snowmobilers, which Flindall says affects the overall trail system in Ontario that connects virtually the entire province.
“To have one district closed right in the middle of all those trails, we’re obviously really scrambling to figure out how we’re going to address this from a trails perspective going forward this year,” he said.
Snowmobile trails will be closed for the duration of the province’s stay-at-home order, with the Health Unit saying the closure will be reassessed at the end of it.