Sledders should be back on the IB+O trail this winter. Highlands East council voted Sept. 12 to work with user groups to replace a bridge that’s been closed since July 2022.

Council unanimously backed public works operations manager Perry Kelly, who recommended spending $215,000 exclusive of GST on the new bridge, with user groups chipping in nearly $100,000 of the cost.

Kelly said the Central Eastern Area Snowmobile Region had committed to onethird of projected costs ($71,686.79) while The Haliburton ATV Association had pledged to provide $25,000.

He added once the bridge is made and delivered, the work can be done in five days.

“This is an amazing project bringing the user groups together and the community together in order to pull this off,” Kelly said.

He noted the new bridge will be able to support all user groups.

Kelly said for sledders, it’s “an integral asset” for connectivity to the rest of the trail system. He said it will bring increased traffic for retailers, and will reduce municipal liability.

Council passed the resolution unanimously without discussion, with its portion of the money ($118,394.94) coming from reserves. Highlands East met with user groups Aug. 22, culminating in last week’s decision.

Kelly suggested the most economical replacement would be a Lessard bridge, made of steel, 50-feet long, and with a 10-ton capacity to support a trail groomer. He said it’s a good price, the easiest to install in a remote trail area, and local contractors can do the work.

In August, Wilberforce Service Centre co-owner Todd Watling told council the closure had a significant impact on his and other businesses in winter 2022-23. He said co-owner, Lindsay Watling, had estimated they were down more than $140,000 last year. He said it was so bad, they considered closing last winter and embarking on renovations earlier.

Watling said they heard similar stories from other Wilberforce businesses. “We just simply get bypassed. They choose their rides elsewhere, other trails, other towns, so it’s been significant.”

Jon Cumming, president of the Paudash Trailblazers Snowmobile Club, also told council at an Aug. 8 meeting, “I want to impress upon council the importance of resolving the problem prior to this winter.”