Upper Canada sanctuary's for the birds-- and the cross-country skiers, and snowshoers

Sam Schuler, right, a board member with the Friends of the Sanctuary and in charge of winter programming and volunteers, with some guidance for visitors heading out on a cross-country ski trail. Photo on Sunday, February 16, 2020, in Ingleside, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Todd Hambleton / Todd Hambleton/Standard-Freeholder

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INGLESIDE — An outdoor gem was being enjoyed by large numbers of people on Family Day weekend.

The Friends of the Sanctuary Winter Program, at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary, just southwest of Ingleside, had trails open for cross-country skiing and showshoeing enthusiasts for all three days, and even before Family Day itself had arrived, well over 100 people had dropped in.

The trails have been open each weekend since early in January, but earlier on it was par for the course, considering weather conditions in the region the last few years.

“The first few weekends were not good – there was virtually no skiing or snowshoeing,” said Friends of the Sanctuary president Ross Miller, taking a short break in the afternoon from what was a very busy rental shop area at the Visitor Centre. “The best thing that happened was that big snow dump (two weeks ago), now business has gone crazy.”

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The trails were being used by big numbers of outdoor enthusiasts of all ages on Sunday afternoon, including Jim Savage, 79, of Ingleside.

“It’s a great area here,” Savage said after what was his second outing this season on the cross-country trails at the bird sanctuary.

Jim Savage, of Ingleside, at the end of a trail outing on the weekend at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo on Sunday, February 16, 2020, in Ingleside, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Todd Hambleton / Todd Hambleton/Standard-Freeholder

But, for someone who formerly lived in Northern Ontario, and who’s been cross-country skiing for three decades, Savage hasn’t been impressed with the mild winters in recent years in this part of the world.

“Conditions haven’t been right for (skiing) for the last few years – it’s been disappointing,” he said. “It looked promising in November, but then there was rain and (milder weather).”

The boom-bust pattern of winter weather will continue this week. Thursday’s outlook is for a very chilly daytime high of -12 C, but a warming trend quickly returns, and by next weekend highs of up to 4 C can be expected.

That’s not good for trails, especially when the season, hopefully, will continue for well over another month. The Friends of the Sanctuary would love to see winter stick around a while – they’ve got a lot of activities planned for kids and families during March break, which is March 14-22.

“We’ll be open every day during the break, there’ll be a lot going on,” Miller said.

There are 5.5 kilometres of skiing trails to enjoy. And there are seven kilometres of snowshoe trails, which can also be enjoyed by people who just want to have a pleasant winter stroll.

The cross-country ski trail was a crowded place on the weekend, at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo on Sunday, February 16, 2020, in Ingleside, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Todd Hambleton / Todd Hambleton/Standard-Freeholder

There’s a Friends of the Sanctuary board of over a dozen, and the total number of Friends is over 70. Becoming a member is easy – and it’s not expensive to do so. Senior and youth memberships are $10, regular memberships are $15, it’s $25 for families and there are corporate memberships for $100.

“The money helps support (the programs) but you also get discounts on (equipment rental),” Miller said.

Skis and snowshoes are available for rent at the Visitor Centre, at a cost of $6 for adults and $4 for children. The cost for FOS members is $4 for adults and $3 for kids.

There’s lots of rental equipment available at the Visitor Centre, at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo on Sunday, February 16, 2020, in Ingleside, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Todd Hambleton / Todd Hambleton/Standard-Freeholder

One of the fun activities are the Moonlight Skiing nights, the final one this season slated for March 7.

“We try to keep it (scheduled) as close to the full moon as we can,” Miller said.

The last one in early February was exactly on the full-moon night, and despite it being -26 C there were well over a dozen participants. The special nights have trail guides deployed, and head lamps are provided, as skiers head out to a bonfire, then return to the Visitor Centre/parking area.

The trails’ regular open days are Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m., and refreshments can be purchased at the Visitor Centre.

For more information, call 613-362-0615 or 613-537-2024, or email info@friendsofthesanctuary.org.

Also, check out the Facebook page, Friends of the Sanctuary.

thambleton@postmedia.com

twitter.com/FreeholderTodd

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