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Refrigerated skate trail at park rejected by city council

'A refrigerated skate trail sounds a little crazy and futuristic,' notes mayor, but said it would help create a healthier community
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A $3.1 million artificial skate trail envisaged for Couchiching Beach Park melted into thin air after a majority of city councillors voted against the plan at a budget committee meeting Tuesday at city hall.

Coun. Ted Emond made an impassioned plea to green-light what he termed a “visionary” plan as part of a spirited debate about the project.

“I think it’s an important investment,” said Emond. “It’s an opportunity and we have relatively few of these in the budget where we can invest in the future of Orillia and, at the same time, build on the heritage and past in Orillia.”

The Ward 1 councillor said heritage is about more than buildings and read a passage from a just-released book, Christmas in Mariposa, by former Packet & Times reporter Jamie Lamb. 

That passage harkened back to “joyful” times skating on the lake - something that is less and less possible due to the impact of climate change.

Emond conceded the timing wasn’t ideal due to this year’s budget pressures, but suggested timing was good in terms of the planned redevelopment of the waterfront.

Coun. Mason Ainsworth said he had concerns about the ongoing operational costs associated with the skate trail, which staff estimate to be about $150,000 per year.

He said a skate trail could “be something great” but the price tag is “way too much.”

He also said when he talks to residents, they constantly bring up roads, sidewalks and snow removal - not a skating trail.

That was a sentiment echoed by Coun. David Campbell. He said during his year as a councillor, he has heard “more opposition about this skate trail than any other thing.”
He referenced the ongoing operational costs as a key factor.

“My job here as a councillor is to represent (the citizens) and I have overwhelmingly heard they do not support this, so I won’t.”

Mayor Steve Clarke supported the idea and said he recognized it’s a vision.

“A refrigerated skate trail sounds a little crazy and futuristic, but it could be used in plus 5 weather,” said Clarke, citing the difficulty of maintaining outdoor rinks amid the wild swings of weather in recent years.

He also likened the skate trail to the new park in West Orillia, which has a similar price tag. He noted it, too, has annual operational costs.

Emond noted the city had put the project forward recently as one of two projects vying for provincial/federal grant money.

He warned council that if they turned down the concept, the upper levels of government would not likely agree to funding.

However, in the end, a majority of council did not support the initiative.

The idea behind the skate trail was to “provide a year-round destination on the waterfront.”

A report to councillors noted it would be “both a popular winter destination and a programmable concrete trail in the summertime.”

Staff said increased activity at the waterfront in the winter would have “numerous positive” results. During summer months, the trail was to support community festivals and special events “by providing space for tents with excellent access to the Port of Orillia”, the boardwalk and could support pop-up performances with amphitheatre-style seating. 

The project would have included an addition to the Orillia Waterfront Centre to accommodate a skate change room and a second small service building to house the ice resurfacer and the ice-making equipment.

Council was still wrapping up its budget deliberations as of Tuesday at 5 p.m.

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Dave Dawson

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Dave Dawson is community editor of
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