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'Huge mistake': New Hiawatha parking lot would bulldoze majestic trees

To avoid congestion on Landslide Road, the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club wants to cut down an island of white pine and spruce trees to create more parking on their Pinder lots

A proposal to remove a plot of conservation authority-owned trees to create 48 additional parking spaces at the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club is being met with some hesitancy from several local residents.

The ski club, along with the Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority (SSMRCA) and Hiawatha Highlands, hosted a public information session on Monday to gauge the community’s feedback regarding their intentions to expand the Pinder parking lots on Landslide Road this autumn.

Located directly across the street from the Kinsmen Club, the two parking lots are available year-round for cross-country skiers, snowshoers and cyclists who enjoy heading out on the surrounding trail systems.

The ski club says the current Pinder lots have experienced severe congestion with the growing popularity of these activities, which leaves club members and trail users no choice but to park along the sides of the main road.

Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club president Amy Wheeler Reich says the congestion has raised significant safety concerns for some time now.

“On Saturdays, the parking lots would fill, and it was very unsafe for kids walking along the road,” she says. “Whenever we’d have events, cars and buses would have to park on the road.”

The ski club says that clearing the vegetation from between the two existing parking lots will:

  • Allow for 48 additional parking spots
  • Reduce the number of vehicles that park along Landslide Road
  • Provide a safe location to exit vehicles
  • Reduce the risk of slips and falls or children running into traffic
  • Improve overall visibility within the parking lot all year long, making it harder for people to dump garbage and other unwanted materials on or around the perimeter of the existing lot

Reich also notes that the conservation authority approved their plans last spring to cut down the island of white pine and white spruce trees — an area that measures roughly 0.68 hectares and separates the two current Pinder lots.

The ski club was prepared to begin cutting down the trees last fall, but Wheeler says a concerned citizen raised some red flags, which prompted the club to make further environmental queries.

“We did a preliminary screening for species at risk,” Wheeler says. “We had foresters come out and look at the trees. In the end, the ministry of environment came back and said there were no worries with this patch. It wasn’t a nesting ground for any species at risk, and we’d be doing it after the migratory birds in the area leave.”

“We also proposed that we’d plant new trees elsewhere on conservation authority property.”

But the proposal isn’t sitting well with Sault resident Brian Mealey, a former long-time ski coach at Searchmont who believes the tall trees in question hold significant meaning to the area as they may be more than 200 years old.

"This is a huge mistake to take down that center island, which is the most beautiful thing when you drive in," he says. “If I’ve had a hard day, and I’m looking at those big trees, this just kind of puts things into perspective — because trees do talk to you, and they communicate with each other.”

“I have quite a few people on my way of thinking.”

One of those people is Owen Heeps, a retired Algoma Steel worker who joined Mealey at the Pinder lots on Tuesday to investigate the area.

After taking some measurements, they believe the ski club can add more than the intended 48 parking spots without having to take down the white pine and spruce trees at all.

Instead, they’re proposing that the ski club remove the brush and less significant vegetation that’s situated along the sides of the Pinder lots, which they believe would create ample space for more parking.

“Between the two lots, you could add 60 new parking spots — guaranteed,” Heeps says.

During the winter months, the main Pinder lot has enough room for 50 vehicles, while the upper Pinder lot has space for 35 vehicles.

Because the lots aren’t paved, there are no lines to indicate exactly where people should be parking, which Heeps explains is a problem of its own.

“These parking lots are basically a free-for-all — it’s park wherever you want pretty much,” he says. “There’s no organization, so you’re just going to lose all kinds of useful space.”

“The money they’re using to remove the trees could be used to upgrade the parking lots.”

The ski club says the proposed clearing, grubbing, grading, and gravelling of the Pinder site will be undertaken between October and November 2023 with a completion target before the onset of winter snowfall.

SSMRCA general manager Corrina Barret says they’re still open to additional ideas on what’s best for the area, and she told SooToday in an email that the conservation authority is aware of the measurements Heeps and Mealey took on Tuesday.

A final decision on what will happen to the trees is yet to be determined.

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Alex Flood

About the Author: Alex Flood

Alex is a recent graduate from the College of Sports Media where he discovered his passion for reporting and broadcasting
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