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COLUMN: Pandemic has people embracing outdoors like never before

'We’ve embraced the outdoors and can easily explore what lies just beyond our doorstep,' reporter writes
Book ahead if you'd like to get on the Simcoe County Museum's skating trail.

We may be in the throes of winter with daytime temperatures way below freezing, but hey, we’re Canadians, there’s an epidemic and we’re surrounded by all this open land (and frozen water) which allows us endless opportunities for safe diversions, as long as you dress warmly.

Our waterfront right in the centre city beckons people daily  walking the trails or playing shinny at the Centennial Beach rink.

Sometimes you can spot the venturesome kite skiing on the snowy surface of Kempenfelt Bay among the ice fishers dropping a line in a newly drilled fishing hole.

Then there’s people like Josef Polcz, Chris Criswick and Caroline Leppanen who just embrace the cold. Every day, they labour for a good hour off the shore at Centennial Beach to cut a hole the size of a small swimming pool into the ice. Then they slip in for a good five to 10 minutes for a therapeutic dip.

There’s no yelling, no immediate jumping out. They’re just treading water in the deep end, which is about nine feet, they may take the odd underwater duck or sort of squat on the sand in the three-foot shallow end as if they’re relaxing in a hot tub.

As diversions go, that’s pretty Canadian. That 1 Celsius water is bound to shock the body into another reality far away from the pandemic. 

And that’s kind of the point. 

With some preparation, and perhaps some creative thinking, we have all these options to get away from it all without really getting away at all  extreme sport or not. It’s no wonder people want to live here, I’ve repeatedly been told as I report on the area’s critical housing shortage.

Simcoe County forester Graeme Davis tells me people have been flocking out to the trails in Ontario’s largest municipal forest like never before. In response, the county added in extra parking spots at some of the trailheads to accommodate the increased interest.

And some of the user groups which help maintain the trails  the Simcoe County Off-Road Riders Association and the Simcoe County Mountain Bike Club  claim the largest memberships in their activity in the province or country. 

Even with the extra snow, many of the trails get enough traffic to trample down the trails so that snowshoes aren’t always necessary.

Motorists pulling into the Simcoe County Museum parking lot on Saturday were immediately informed with a well-displayed sign that the skating trail was full. The trail loops through the museum's heritage buildings and forest pathways for a little more than a kilometre.

Just coming off the ice, museum curator Kelley Swift Jones said it’s been like that every time the skating trail has opened since it went into operation for the season last week. The hours are restricted and tickets must be purchased online, but they only go on sale on the day of, just in case the conditions aren’t suitable to open the facility to the public.

That we’ve embraced the outdoors and can easily explore what lies just beyond our doorstep, no matter the weather, and the fact that people from elsewhere want to join us puts the area in a unique position.

Perhaps we can do more of these explorations together when we can finally put the challenges of the pandemic behind us.

Marg. Bruineman is a staff reporter with BarrieToday.