Possible skating trail on Rainy Lake discussed as part of council budget deliberations

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

The Town of Fort Frances council discussed the possibility of having a skating trail on Rainy Lake at Monday’s council budget deliberations meeting. Council said they could help an organization spearhead its development.

The request came from the Municipal Accommodation Tax Advisory Committee (MAT), who wrote to council saying they believe developing a Rainy Lake Skating trail will not only assist with growing our tourism potential but will be very popular with Fort Frances residents.

The MAT committee had also given examples of other skating trails in Portage La Prairie MB., Spray Lake, MB. and Warroad, MN. USA.

However, Operations and Facilities manager Travis Rob wrote a report to council bringing up several concerns with the proposal, the first being deciding on a trail location, input from Couchiching First Nation, insurance of operating equipment on ice and the presence of benches to tie skates at the entrance to the trail as well as benches or warming shelters along the trail length.

“There are a lot of things to consider that we have not even scratched the surface,” Rob said. “Then we can start looking at feasibility, dealing with safety and equipment.”

Rob also raised other concerns in the report to council, which makes it hard for his division to put a dollar sign on the project.

“Working on ice is extremely dangerous at the best of times and would require the establishment of very strict ice safety policies and procedures including a rigorous thickness monitoring program to ensure that the ice was as safe as possible for both our workers as well as patrons utilizing the trails through the winter,” Rob said in the report.

Rob further explained that the feasibility of this project is dependent on keeping additional staff in parks and cemeteries for the winter, dedicated to looking after the maintenance of this trail.

Council was split on whether this is a project they want to investigate. Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft echoed Rob’s concerns and said he is concerned about only the initial expense but the yearly expense of keeping the trail going.  

“I think there is just too much to consider at this point in time,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I would add that if you really want to attract tourists in the winter time, why not put your money into snowmobile trails?”

But three other council members agreed with Coun. Douglas Judson’s suggestion to have some funds available if an organization or a business wants to spearhead the project. 

“I think that does address some of the issues that have been raised about our capacity, our liability insurance requirements and takes it off the table for the town,” Judson said.

Coun. Wendy Brunetta said she is concerned about liability possibilities on this one, but supported giving a set amount of money for a different organization to pursue it.

This project is not a done deal just yet because it has deferred for future discussion on the operating budget. 

Rob said council has tasked him with developing more concrete costing for a trail of this type so that they could look to include some value in the operating budget as a grant for a private entity or group to look after the construction and maintenance of this type of project.

“I have no direction on the location or the length,” Rob said in an email to the Times. “I will make some assumptions on this for the purpose of developing costing and disclose that as part of my next report.”