The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) has announced its appreciation to the 6,000 volunteers whose trail-building expertise and operational dedication is the grassroots backbone local snowmobile clubs across Ontario. Despite facing unprecedented and continually evolving challenges, volunteer efforts, cooperation and determination during the past season helped achieve the commitment made to snowmobilers in the Trails To Ride 2021 plan.
“I want to commend everyone on Team OFSC for our collective achievements this winter,” said CEO Landon French, “from volunteers to landowners to stakeholders, and to staff who helped steer us through uncharted territory this year.”
In an announcement, the OFSC thanked permit buyers for their patience and understanding through the season, saying, “We really appreciate your support of OFSC trails and your willingness to adapt to local riding this winter and for taking the necessary precautions. Certainly, if the positive, post-season feedback from snowmobilers on social media is any indicator, many of you agree that this season was a success story given the circumstances.
From the outset, the OFSC realized that living up to our commitment to deliver a great season would require walking a fine line between the expectations of our districts, clubs, volunteers, landowners and permit holders, and the changing pandemic requirements from various public health authorities. Overall, the season came off well with record permits sold.
We are pleased to report that first available OFSC trails showed Yellow or Green on the Interactive Trail Guide (ITG) as early as December 14, 2020. With Old Man Winter’s cooperation, we had more than 13,000 kilometers of trails available in 15 districts by January 25, 2021. From that date through March 8, 2021, we had an average of 20,045 kilometers of OFSC trails available, including over 22,000 for the Family Day Long Weekend, and topping out at a peak of 26,000 kilometers on February 25, 2021. The last trails closed for the season on March 22, 2021. Fortunately, in a season with many atypical travel restrictions, trail availability was relatively close to home for many riders in most OFSC districts.
Unfortunately, some pandemic restrictions were frustrating for those who live in public health regions that do not have any OFSC trails or in regions where trails were closed for a period of time. After sharing such an abnormal season, we empathize with those who were not able to ride as they normally would and join you in looking ahead to a better season next year.
How did we avoid an imposed province-wide shutdown of OFSC trails at any time during the season? It was the result of great teamwork, creative innovation and flexible planning. Here are several examples:
Outreach: Throughout the fall, the OFSC consulted with a variety of agencies, stakeholders and other recreational groups to gain knowledge and insight into their pandemic experiences and ideas. All season, we carefully monitored public health developments and changes, tailoring our pandemic response protocols to meet all new recommendations and expectations.
Health & Safety: In cooperation with Workplace Safety North, the OFSC announced our own health and safety protocols to help ensure our clubs and volunteers were able to work smart and safe throughout the season. Throughout the fall, our District Health & Safety Coordinators delivered this training to clubs and volunteers. Next, we implemented Ride Smart 2021, our common sense approach to help snowmobilers do their part to avoid community spread and keep trails open, which also made “snowcial distancing” part of our sledding jargon for 2021.
Communications: We also initiated a comprehensive communications plan to keep snowmobilers up to date about developments through a total of 35 weekly newsletters commencing August 11. For example, one communiqué emphasized the proven physical and mental health benefits of snowmobiling, while other releases explained changing public health measures applicable to OFSC trails and how to comply with them. Our releases also served the important purpose of building and maintaining credibility for, and confidence in, organized snowmobiling with the various authorities and agencies charged with overseeing pandemic response across Ontario.
Recognition: We were quickly recognized by government, public health and industry stakeholders for our progressive leadership in keeping recreational snowmobiling on the “approved recreational activities” list. In fact, thanks to our Flex Trails option and local riding opportunities, OFSC trail riding stood out among other leading winter recreational choices for being allowed to remain open throughout the entire winter.”