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Golf is not alone, easing out of Covid

Joy and jubilation greeted the return of the golf industry, locally, over the course of the Victoria Day long weekend.

Participants out on the links, as well as all those involved with the operation of the Sudbury and area venues, basked in a chance to restore at least a degree of normalcy to their lives, enjoying the chance to get out and do something - anything!

Yet it's not as though golf is alone in navigating these uncertain times.

As a long-time board member of Walden Cross-Country and the current president of the Walden Mountain Bike Club (WMBC), Rusty Hopper maintains a year-round affiliation with the Naughton Trails, an outdoor setting whose guests will number in the thousands in any given twelve month period.

He, along with the countless other volunteers who care for the multi-purpose pathways, have seen Covid-19 affect both the primary winter pastimes that they host, but also their spring and early summer schedule as well.

"When the City shut down all of their facilities with amenities - facilities with programs, buildings, things you could touch that would need to be decontaminated - we had to shut down our chalet," said Hopper. "I think we lost about two weeks."

"The trails stayed open, the lights stayed on at night, so you could still come out and ski. But really, after the second week, it was spring conditions. Still, there are diehards who come out until they are walking more than they are skiing."

And as the last remnants of snow disappeared, the folks west of Walden shifted their focus.

"Now we're seeing the walkers, folks with their dogs, the joggers," said Hopper. "We're going to keep bikers off there until both ski and bike trails are able to support biking. The lower trail section of that facility is very swampy; it takes a while to dry out."

For as much as the site allows for a great deal of recreational and occasionally competitive physical activity, there are still many folks in the region who struggle to unscramble the various partners in this endeavour. "There is an agreement in place between the two groups (Walden XC and WMBC)," explained Hopper.

"It deals with the sharing of the facility, who is responsible for what." And while the WMBC Wolfpak Racing team (which operates under the umbrella of the WMBC) is home to the more intense mountain bike crowd in the area, the truth is that the group strives for a more regional presence, typically staging rides in every corner of Greater Sudbury.

Foothills Farm fixture Cathy Inch did not enjoy the same proximity to her venue of choice when the landscape of sport changed quickly in mid-March. In her world of equestrianism, the final few months of the Canadian winter call for a trek to Florida, where riders and horses alike can get an early jump on the upcoming season.

"We were very close to coming home anyways," said Inch. "We had decisions to make - do we stay and enjoy riding in the sun, because it was so beautiful? But we quickly realized the seriousness of the whole situation and basically said we're getting out of Dodge. We pretty much packed up and got home as quickly as we could."

"It was a bit of a scramble."

Unfortunately, things were far from normal, far from set in stone upon their return north. "I typically come home and really get the ball rolling to get everybody ready for the Trillium circuit," Inch added. "But nobody was riding."

"The industry is now allowing stables to schedule individual rides. One person can come out, tack up their horse, ride the horse and put it away. They have to be gone within an hour and a half, and they have to follow the sanitizing rules. Staff is around, so we are able to keep an eye out - but we cannot instruct."

Much like the Walden XC/WMBC facility and many others in this neck of the woods, Foothills Farm caters to a market that includes both a recreational base, as well as a smaller competitive sector. "Northern Ontario is pretty unique," said Inch. "Most of us are able to kind of spread our wings and do a lot of different things."

Thanks to this versatility, the Sudbury Sports Hall of Famer finds herself somewhat torn, looking ahead to the summer of 2020. "There are a lot of people pushing for a show season, but there are others who are suggesting that maybe we should just make it a training year, make it more about learning than competing," said Inch.

"I really don't mind the fact that I am not packing every minute in for horse shows, that I've actually had some weekends off. That's so strange. Normally, there's either a horse show or a clinic. Financially, it's a bit of a hit, but mentally, there's been a bit of a re-boot. It's been good, giving me some time to work on a few other things that I would normally never have time for."

Such is the world in which we live - at least for the moment.

As the golf, mountain bike and equestrian industries deal with a moving target of guidelines, they are joined by countless others. Folks at the GymZone and other local gymnastic facilities have had the weekend to digest a communique distributed on Friday by Gymnastics Ontario - "Stage 1 Opening Framework".

In addition to highlighting that clubs will not be permitted to begin scheduled competitive training until May 29th, at the earliest, the memorandum also outlines a series of mandatory protocols that must be followed in order to remain compliant with the Province of Ontario guidelines.

Ontario Soccer, like all those provincial bodies that deal with team sports, have stressed that, for the moment, nothing has changed in their world. Everything remains on hold.

But stay tuned - every passing week is sure to bring at least a little more clarity to the world of amateur sports in Ontario.

And with that, hopefully, thankfully, a little more joy and jubilation, for all those involved.

Dairy Queen - Sudbury - Kingsway / Val Caron