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Trail system maintained by volunteers reopens in Thessalon (8 photos)

Stewart Highlands trails, closed since 2014, has reopened thanks to busy volunteers

For the Town of Thessalon, volunteerism has become an important mechanism in the effort to provide meaningful and healthy outdoor activity during pandemic times.

A cross-country ski trail system located near the Town of Thessalon, now known as Stewart Highlands, has historically been groomed and cared for over the years by volunteers.

This ski trail has existed since the 1960s and has even at one time been an integral part of the primary school curriculum. They once were snowmobile trails but at the urging of Nordic ski enthusiasts, were transitioned over to groomed ski trails.

There are varying lengths and degrees of difficulty, ranging from 2 km to 10 km with several loops in between as the trails meander through bush terrain with small hilly areas, across fields and even up a low bluff.

Back then, a group of volunteers and teachers collected enough boots, skis and poles for the primary school. Teachers would take their classes out at lunchtime to experience outdoor winter activities and learn to ski. 

The program at the school still exists today when conditions are right.

Previously on Family Day weekend, there was Winterfest which hosted a poker run for the kids to have a ski competition. Lynda Torgerson, a primary school teacher and avid skier was very interested in teaching kids to ski. 

Skiing became quite popular.

"These trails are on three properties close to Thessalon on the west side. The properties are owned by Tim and Judy Stewart, John Tremelling, and Fluke Lumber and Timbermart. We want to thank them for allowing us to use this property," said Mary Jane Thompson, a retired teacher and enthusiastic ski participant who resides in the area.

"Now in the COVID year without organized sports, some of the young dads have decided to groom the trails again. Jordon Bird and Matt Clarke have groomed the trails, and Bill Rosenberg – our Mayor – has been brushing the trails," she said.

"These trails would not be possible without the generosity of the property owners who allow these trails that cross their properties. The Town of Thessalon is very grateful for their willingness to support these trails."

The trails have been run by the Town of Thessalon intermittently since the 1960s. This winter the Town of Thessalon Council made the decision to resurrect the trails.

"These trails have always been groomed by the volunteers of Thessalon. To name a few – Ruth Juhola, Grant King, Linda Torgeson were some of the early volunteers that helped establish these trails. Rick Watts, Gordon Graham and few others volunteered for around 10 years maintaining these trails and named them the Stewart Highlands," said Jordan Bird, deputy mayor of Thessalon and recreational trails team lead.

"The Trails are located on the north side of Highway 17 adjacent to the Town of Thessalon. The trailhead begins at McPhee Road," he said.

In the very early days, the trails were entered across the highway from Lakeside Park which proved to be quite dangerous for parking etc.

"The recreational trails have been closed since 2014 and the current council was eager to revive them to help get the community back outdoors," said Bird. "The trails are not groomed for snowshoeing, but you are welcome to snowshoe/hike along these trails; however, we ask snowshoe/hikers to stay off the ski tracks."

"The town has been fortunate to have many volunteers who have come to help groom the trails to get them re-opened quickly this year. A Recreational Trails Team has been established to organize future grooming, and development of these trails," added Bird.

An older trail map is included with this story. New signage and maps are in the works. 

For updates, please check with the Town Of Thessalon official website, the official Town of Thessalon Facebook page, and the Thessalon Community Events and Activities Facebook page where they will keep you up to date.

Given the late opening date of the trails this year and the effects that the COVID-19 Pandemic has had on everyone, the trail fees have been waived for this year by Thessalon Town Council. In 2022 trail passes will be made available for purchase.

Bird indicated that they are hopeful after future discussions with the landowners these trails can be developed for year-round use allowing them to be made available for biking, running and hiking. Presently they are not.

"We have been skiing every day since it opened on the weekend and it is the most normal thing that we have enjoyed doing since the COVID lockdown started," added Thompson.

Please remember to practice responsible stewardship, follow COVID guidelines while out, leave the pets at home and stay out of the ski tracks if you are hiking or snowshoeing.

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About the Author: Violet Aubertin

Violet Aubertin is a photograher and writer with an interest in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma's great outdoors
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