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Kinsmen say local Nordic skiing is in danger

The Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority is jeopardizing access to quality Nordic skiing in the Sault, says David Urso, past president of the Kinsmen Club.

The Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority is jeopardizing access to quality Nordic skiing in the Sault, says David Urso, past president of the Kinsmen Club.

Today at the Water Tower Inn, Urso told media that cross-country skiing is about to suffer a major setback because the conservation authority is planning to essentially rent out its portion of the Hiawatha Ski Trails, effectively severing that 8.5-kilometre stretch from the other trails.

He said that the conservation authority has put out a request for proposals to operate those trails that's so restrictive it's more like a call for quotes than a call for proposals.

"We felt our message wasn't getting out there," said Urso. "So we thought it was time to put it on the table to let people know what was happening out at Kinsmen Park and the Hiawatha highlands and what impact this is going to have on cross-country skiing."

The conservation authority's request for proposals on its portion of the Hiawatha trails will make it necessary for the Kinsmen Club and Sault Finnish Nordic Ski Club relocate all of their assets from conservation authority lands, said Urso.

Up until June of this year, the whole trail system was operated as a partnership between the conservation authority, Kinsmen Club, City of Sault Ste. Marie and Sault Finnish Nordic Ski Club under Sault Trails and Recreation (STAR).

When STAR was dissolved in June, the conservation authority decided to tender out care of its portion of the trails.

Sault Finnish Nordic Ski Club President Kevin Hogan said that the club offered to continue management of the whole 36-kilometre trail system.

The Kinsmen thought this was a good idea.

"The Sault Finnish Nordic Ski Club has a considerable sweat investment in that trail system," said Urso. "In order for that venture to succeed we need the knowledge and experience that club brings to the table."

Urso and Hogan are wondering why the conservation authority is refusing to allow their clubs access to their trails on conservation authority lands, forcing them to relocate a parking lot, portions of an illuminated trail and non-illuminated trail, effectively segregating their interests.

The Kinsmen Club media release is as follows:

********* Cross Coungry skiing at a crossroad

Media release from the Kinsemen Club of Sault Ste. Marie

July 24, 2006 - The sport of cross country skiing is about to suffer a major setback in this city. Unless the Conservation Authority and City Hall can be persuaded to act in the broader interests of the community a popular sport that provides both recreational and economic benefits to this city may suffer significant harm.

Recently, the Kinsmen Club withdrew from its partnership in STAR (Sault Trails and Recreation). This partnership between the Kinsmen, the Ski Club, the Conservation Authority and the City was simply not working. For many years we have been listening to complaints from skiers about the poor grooming or lack of grooming by the STAR organization. That organization was not responsive to the concerns of its customers (the skiers) and in our view was not being run in a businesslike manner.

Following our withdrawal from STAR, our club accepted a proposal from the Sault Finnish and Nordic Ski Club to take over the trail grooming and maintenance in Kinsmen Park (about 240 acres) and the Red Pine trails on land owned by the MNR for which our Club holds a land use permit.

The problem is that some trails are on Conservation Authority land - either in whole or in part. It now appears that the Conservation Authority has no intention of allowing the Ski Club or any other group to groom trails on its land. The CA has set conditions for the use of its trails that simply cannot be met by the Ski Club. The CA appears to have its own long-term agenda. Apparently the Mayor has thrown his support behind the CA and its impossible demands.

The Kinsmen Club supports the Sault Finnish Nordic Ski Club proposal for a number of reasons. Firstly, we've always enjoyed a good working relationship with the Ski Club because our aims and objectives are the same - to provide good skiing at the lowest reasonable cost and to develop the sport. It is since we got involved with the City and the CA that things have deteriorated badly.

The grooming of cross country ski trails is not a nine to five job with weekends off. Many skiers like to go out early in the morning and do a few kilometers before going to work. If it snowed the night before the groomer should be out on the trails earlier than the skiers. That's what used to happen when the trails were groomed by volunteers from the Kinsmen Club and the Ski Club. It hasn't happened in recent years. What better way to eliminate most of the skiers' complaints about the trails than to have the Ski Club take over the grooming.

It was the Sault Finnish Nordic Ski Club who first built the trails in Kinsmen Park and the surrounding area with the permission of ourselves and other land owners. They have a collective expertise in trail grooming and development. They also have a large base of volunteers and contact with ski clubs throughout the country.

If the Ski Club gives up in frustration and walks away from this area the sport will suffer badly. Ski meets, their Jack Rabbit program and other economic benefits will be at risk.

There will still be cross country skiing. But it will lose focus, become fragmented and be unable to support some of its present programs. If you lose the base of volunteers you'll never get it back.

We urge the public to give the Ski Club its political support.