There’ll be no cross country skiing or snowshoeing at a well-known Algoma winter tourist spot this winter.
“It was all or nothing, and we just made the decision to do nothing.”
That from Susan Byker, who along with husband Gaylen, daughter and son-in-law, owns Stokely Creek Lodge, 34 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie.
The owners recently announced the lodge will not be open for anyone to enjoy in the winter of 2020-21 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“It feels absolutely terrible. We love being at Stokely all winter. We love our guests. It’s the highlight of our year. It’s not good. It was a very tough decision,” Byker said.
Stokely Creek Lodge, consisting of a main lodge, restaurant, guest cabins and over 100 kilometres of well-groomed cross-country ski trails, is a big favourite with American visitors.
That means a huge chunk of business would be missing at the lodge as long as the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel.
“In September we were waiting for November, then in November we were waiting for January (regarding hopes the border would be reopened)...we just decided that it wasn’t going to go this winter, so we made that decision (to stay closed for the winter) and put it on our website,” Byker said.
The lodge is better known to Americans than Canadians (the Bykers themselves residents of the Grand Rapids, Mich. area), Byker said it still wouldn’t have been worth the family’s time to stay open for the number of Canadian visitors from southern Ontario, Sudbury and the Sault who are beginning to visit Stokely in greater numbers.
“To operate at 30 per cent capacity, just with Canadians, wouldn’t make any sense. It would cost a lot more money than that to groom trails and hire people to work there (more money than what the Bykers would have made from just Canadian visitors)...you can’t run a business at 30 per cent capacity.”
“We also said if things changed, of course we would open, (in terms of COVID-19 and the closed border), but things have not changed.”
Byker said the decision to stay closed for the winter was made before any customers had laid down deposits for the coming season.
“The second reason (for the decision to stay closed) was (limited) air travel from Toronto (further reducing the number of Canadian visitors), along with the closed border,” Byker said, noting ski hills and the Sault’s own Hiawatha Highlands (day trip destinations) are looking forward to a better year Stokely could have had.
“We’re a hotel, we’re overnight, and we would only be able to be open 30 per cent for dinner, lunch and breakfast. We couldn’t do buffet. It wouldn’t have been financially feasible to follow all those guidelines and be open. It never would’ve worked.”
The Bykers are hoping to be able to reopen to visitors for the winter of 2021-22.
“We’re hoping this summer we’ll be open for biking, running, weddings, gatherings of people who want to rent and hiking around May. We’re all wishing for the best.”