Good news for snowmobilers who love Halfway Haven Lodge.
“We are reopening for the winter season,” said Darrell Hoag, Halfway Haven Lodge manager, speaking to SooToday from Halfway Haven’s office in Bronson, Michigan.
The lodge, situated 140 kilometres northeast of Searchmont and accessible by a road off Highway 101, is American owned.
It is a vital link for fuel, food, accommodation and safety for snowmobilers on long distance wilderness adventures.
But there's a flip side to the good news.
Despite its intention to open for the 2021-22 season, Halfway Haven is in need of help, seeking Ontario government assistance.
“We’re currently requesting consideration for funding from Ontario (the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, or NOHFC, specifically)...we’re going to go one more season with the hope that something can be worked out for a long-term solution for Halfway,” Hoag said.
“The process (applying for funding) is very cumbersome. The government will admit that and it’s one of the things they’re working on. We expect to make an application for the next cycle (of NOHFC funding) in January.”
Infrastructure at Halfway Haven (the main lodge in particular) is 23 years old and is in need of repair, Hoag said, though he did not supply a specific or approximate dollar figure in terms of the lodge’s need.
“It’s going to be a considerable request, no doubt about that.”
The lodge is a necessity, Hoag said.
“We understand from the OFSC (Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs) that without us being able to provide fuel and shelter that they would be forced to close the TOP (Trans Ontario Provincial) D Trail with considerable economic loss to Ontario. The region generates about $25 million in revenue (annually, through the snowmobile tourism industry)."
“We aren’t comfortable with closing snowmobiling in the region but we cannot afford to supplement it to the degree that we have over the past six years. We’re hopeful that the government, and/or the riders, will contribute to its support."
There is no specific date for Halfway Haven to open for the 2021-22 season.
The lodge will open when it can, Hoag said, as more snow is needed in the area to receive groomers to make trails, then receive guests.
“At this point in time we have eight inches of snow in camp, but that is increasing daily. We’re not there yet but we’re going in the right direction.”
Hoag emphasized opening day does not depend on the lodge’s need for funding.
Halfway Haven hopes to recover from a devastating 2020-21 winter season.
Last year, public health agencies, such as Algoma Public Health (APH) and Public Health Sudbury & Districts, taking direction from Public Health Ontario, imposed COVID-19 closures and restrictions which affected all sectors of the economy, including the tourism and recreation sector.
Even if the lodge had been open, business would have been down dramatically as many of its visitors come from the American side (states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois).
“The triple whammy was the amount of snow. There wasn’t enough snow in Chapleau or Dubreuilville last year to snowmobile," Hoag said.
The economic loss, said the Halfway Haven manager, was “considerable.”
“We stayed closed for the summer (in which the lodge plays host to ATV and UTV enthusiasts, serving hunters in the fall).”
Moving forward, Hoag said “reservation requests (from guests) are strong.”
“There’s a fair amount of apprehension as to what’s going to happen with COVID rates rising in Sault Ste. Marie. They just went to a 10-person restriction for indoor places and that will be disastrous for our location. If I’m restricted to allowing only 10 people inside to get warm, have a bowl of soup, then that’s going to be challenging. It basically negates our ability to host people overnight. We do have provisions that we’ve established that we can serve soup and sandwiches and such through the day but people will have to remain outdoors."
“But, our American guests are very excited about the border restrictions being lifted so that they can come to Halfway,” Hoag said, adding new, first time guests from the Greater Toronto Area and Sudbury are showing an interest and making reservations at the lodge.