Last Saturday, I was pulling out of the high school parking lot when it hit me. Looking towards the Haliburton train, I noticed two snowmobilers stopped to take pictures.

I parked and strolled over, curious to know where they were from and why they were there. The couple were from Pefferlaw, in Georgina. They’d driven to Fenelon Falls and then gotten onto the rail trail for the trip to Haliburton. After I took a picture for them, they wanted directions to McKecks. They were heading for lunch.

Other sledders were waiting to cross the road onto Head Lake. Still others were exiting the lake for the snowmobile staging area inside the park itself. Suddenly, I became aware of sledders everywhere. They were at both gas stations in Haliburton. They walked the main drag in snowsuits, helmets in hand. I got that feeling I hadn’t had since late August. Tourists. Of the winter kind.

Despite puberty-like, unpredictable, winter weather, snowmobilers from all over our region, and points beyond, descended on our trails this past weekend. Based on my early week walks, they’re here to stay.

That is a very good thing as Haliburton County businesses lurch through another winter season, warily watching their businesses’ bottom lines.

You may recall that last June, the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs released a new economic impact study.

Based on the report’s data, the Haliburton County Snowmobile Association (HCSA) estimated that snowmobilers spent approximately $29 million in Haliburton in the 2018-19 season, further contributing a total of $8 million in taxes across all government levels.

The HCSA figures were based on the OFSC’s district statistics. In District 6, made up of 14 clubs including Haliburton, snowmobiling visitors spent approximately $99.458 million and contributed $28.5 million in taxes. HCSA’s stats for Haliburton County are 29 per cent of those figures, based on the HCSA having 29 per cent of the total snowmobile club memberships in the district.

While it is difficult to know just how accurate this data is, we do know that snowmobilers inject millions into the local economy – at a time when it is much badly needed.

The HCSA has always used these numbers to lobby the tourism sector to support it.

They have, with a snowmobile section on their website. The club is working on townships for more staging areas.

The HCSA is an incredible organization that every year calls upon countless volunteers to maintain an impressive trail system. They groom and sign 370km. In a good winter, that means 2,000 hours of grooming.

The Highlander has long recognized the importance of the sport to the local economy in the dead of winter. That’s why next week we’re kicking off our first Trail Report.

We’ll have information on conditions for the weekend; a forecast for the coming month; upcoming events; information on all county trail systems and associations and how to find them.

In February, we’ll take a look at that economic impact of the industry and in March tell you how the season went as well as early plans for the 2020-21 season.

In the meantime, happy sledding!

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