Haliburton County council voted May 27 to cancel the 2020 Hike Haliburton Festival due to the pandemic.

Councillors expressed concern with spending more money planning the September event given the public health restrictions that may still be in place.

The event has a $46,500 budget, with only $7,107 spent so far. Council also voted to put the remaining budget into a reserve for future Hike Haliburton events.

“I’m not in favour of spending any more money for something that really just won’t be what our event should be,” deputy warden Andrea Roberts said.

Director of tourism Amanda Virtanen presented council with three other options besides cancelling. They included trying to proceed with a full-scale festival, running a smaller-scale version, and “packaged” version with local businesses, providing visitors with the option to get a hike as part of their stay.

But Virtanen also highlighted challenges. With the need to finish most planning in June, it is difficult to know what the restrictions would be and whether the event might have to get cancelled closer to the date. The average hike has 20 participants and Virtanen said those sizes might not be possible. She also noted it is difficult to know the availability of all spaces needed, and restrictions around administering first-aid could create greater liability.

Virtanen also said businesses would likely not be in a position to provide sponsorship this year, leaving the County with more of the cost. The sponsorship target was $25,000 for 2020.

She added cancelling the festival would be an economic blow to businesses. A total of 2,790 people participated in 2019.

“Cancelling the festival will have an impact but we do need to keep in mind that it’s likely they may not be able to stay in those accommodations or spend in the way they were able to in prior years,” Virtanen said.

Coun. Brent Devolin said he might favour trying for a smaller-scale event, depending on stakeholder feedback.

“If there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, I’m more supportive,” Devolin said, adding the smaller version might still have to get cancelled closer to the date. “I would rather have circumstances dictate that to us.”

Coun. Cec Ryall said informal hikes could still go on, promoted by the County. Virtanen noted the event’s social media feed posts year-round and could continue to promote hiking

“We really don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that is so way up in the air at this point,” Ryall said.

“We can possibly make next year’s bigger and better,” Coun. Dave Burton said.

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