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Tourism industry caught up in the snowmobile craze.

Tourist operators are looking to the snowmobile industry with dollar signs in their eyes.

Industry members are hoping to see business increase because of the provincial government's $14-million initiative designed to create a trans-Ontario snowmobile trail network.

The project is being financed through the $2.3-billion Jobs Ontario fund and is being jointly sponsored by the ministries of Tourism and Recreation, Northern Development and Mines, Natural Resources and the Environment.

The government claims as many as 1,000 new jobs will be created under the Snowmobile Trail Rehabilitation and Construction (SNO-TRAC) program. There will 3,700 kilometres of new trails developed and 4,313 kilometres of existing trails upgraded.

Much of the government money will go to filling in gaps on the Trans-Ontario Provincial System (TOPS) between places such as Geraldton and Nipigon, the Sault and Wawa and Sudbury and Timmins.

However, the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs will have to come up with as much as $6 million for SNO-TRAC. It has asked the federal government for assistance.

Northern Development and Mines Minister Shelley Martel believes that by the end of the three-year program Ontario's snowmobilers will be able to travel on an 11,000-kilometre corridor. She estimates the economic impact at $10 million, and also claims that the trails will attract American visitors and turn Ontario resorts into year-round operations.

This has the tourism industry salivating.

Tourism operations such as the Jolly Roger Inn in Parry Sound, the Sportsman Lodge in Markstay and the Senator Hotel in Sudbury have already benefited from catering to snowmobilers.

"I think it (snowmobiling) has substantial impact as winter is the slow time, and you are bringing in people who have a fair chunk of money. It rounds out our product, giving people a reason to come to Sudbury," says George Walinga, president of the Sudbury Tourism Council.

Still, for larger northern cities with bylaws preventing snowmobiling, downtown businesses may not see the benefits enjoyed by resorts and gas stations on the outskirts of town, admits Walinga.

However, Betty Fontana, owner and manager of the White Otter Inn in Atikokan, points out that the hotels and restaurants in urban areas will benefit from snowmobile rallies and other organized events.

"Certainly it's good for all towns," she adds.

Gerard Marcoux, Northern Ontario vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, believes the creation of a trans-Ontario snowmobile trail system could lead to major economic spinoffs for the Nipissing District.

Marcoux, a Verner resident, says the Near North Trail Association in Nipissing is in the midst of developing trail access to Quebec and southern Ontario.

David Saad, North Bay's assistant recreation director, believes the economic impact of SNO-TRAC is limitless.

North Bay will be hosting the 1993 Ontario Federation of Snowmobilers conference next September. More than 700 delegates are expected to attend, bringing an estimated $200,000 into the local economy.

The benefits of SNO-TRAC will also likely be enjoyed by The Shop Industrial of Lively. The company is using a $250,000 term loan from the Northern Ontario Development Corporation to buy production machinery and equipment to manufacture drags for trail grooming.

Tested over the past two years, the drags have unique features such as sliding hitch mounts, adjustable blades and brush guards specifically designed for the rocky terrain of Northern Ontario.

The Shop owner Ron Kanerva hopes to sell the new trail-grooming drags to snowmobile clubs.

The $950,000 manufacturing project means the creation of 11 full-time positions over the next five years.

CONCERNS RAISED

Despite the positive economic benefits, however, the SNO-TRAK plan has raised some concerns regarding property rights, public safety and the environment.

For some rural property owners there is legitimate concern about snowmobilers trespassing on their land in order to access the groomed trails run by snowmobile clubs.

John Robert, the mayor of Valley East in Sudbury Region, says there have been numerous complaints in his municipality over the past few years about snowmobilers causing extensive damage to farm land and private and municipal property.

Don Lumley, president of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, believes these problems could be lessened with the creation of staging areas under the SNO-TRAC initiative.

Lumley insists that staging areas will also lead to a dramatic reduction in snowmobile accidents and fatalities. He believes they will discourage riders from travelling on frozen lakes and public roads, where most accidents occur, to get access to groomed trails.

Ministry of Natural Resources officials were initially concerned about the effects that snowmobiling over Crown lands would have on wildlife.

Bob Broad, a compliance specialist with the ministry office in Espanola, says the ministry now views the only side effect from the sport as noise disturbing the animals.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:781
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