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Conservation Authority to Work Directly with Soo Finnish Club

Wed, Aug  16, 2006 - By Jim Mihell

Largely thanks to an overwhelming level of support for Soo Finnish Nordic from the public, it looks like the Soo Finnish Nordic will prevail in its bid to assume control of the entire ski trail system at Hiawatha Highlands at Sault Ste. Marie Ont., and the threat that the trails might be split up has passed.

The Ski Club’s seven-point vision for the trails includes enhancement / expansion of the current 35 km trail system; procurement of new grooming equipment; continuing to host major events (such as this coming year’s Michigan Cup Race); and above all, addressing the issues pertaining to grooming quality and frequency.

Stand by for excellent skiing at Hiawatha Highlands in 2006/2007!

Article in "The Sault Star" by Michael Purvis:

The Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority gave cross-country skiers breathing room with a decision Tuesday to at least negotiate with Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club, says the club's president.

Conservation authority members voted 3-1 to sidestep the board's request for proposals and enter talks with the ski club on a contract to operate the ski trails in the Hiawatha Highlands.

Kevin Hogan, president of the ski club, said now that he has the support of the conservation authority, he is eager to start moving toward a deal.

"I think at this point there's lots of work to be done, so we can take a breath for a second, but we've got to get moving on things."

Cross-country skiers protested the authority's RFP, which some said threatened to split up the 35-kilometre trail system if anyone other than the ski club won the right to operate the section of trails on conservation authority land.

The authority earlier acknowledged the original RFP failed to consider several factors, including experience, managing the whole trail system, issues around parking and a multi-year agreement, in which both proponents had expressed interest.

"If we had to do it again we'd change it," Mayor John Rowswell told fellow board members.

The board felt it could include those factors in its deliberations, based on a legal opinion from city solicitor Lorie Bottos that a contract was not mandatory and that the authority was free to reject proposals from both the ski club and a for-profit business, Heyden Adventure Base Camp, Rowswell said.

Rowswell and Coun. Neil DelBianco, council's appointee to the board, both sit on the negotiation committee. The mayor said in an interview he expects to have an agreement to present for approval at the next meeting of the conservation authority.

Any deal with the ski club will hinge on the not-for-profit group getting from the city the $7,500 it needs to pay the authority for use of the land.

The conservation authority first requested $10,500 from the winning proponent, but dropped a $3,000 charge for parking space if the operator would plow the lot and open it to other users.

The ski club and the authority must wait until the next city council meeting Aug. 28 to learn if council will put up the funds, though both Rowswell and Hogan are confident the motion will pass, based on apparent support from councillors present at a public meeting last week.

Board members also agreed that a contract will cover a five-year period with yearly reviews.

The hour-long debate included several back-and-forth discussions between the board and both proponents, who were in the audience.

Brian Anstess, owner of Heyden Adventure Base Camp, expressed satisfaction, despite losing his bid for the trails.

"I think the discussion that came out was really important," said Anstess.

Hogan said the club wants a start on trail maintenance that should have begun during summer, though he noted an agreement is not yet a sure thing.

"We'll have to sit down and work with that and see that it fits what needs to happen with our club."