Northern Ontario lodge’s abrupt closure puts snowmobilers in a lurch

Halfway Haven Lodge Photo Courtesy of Halfway Haven Lodge Facebook

Northern Ontario snowmobilers have found themselves stranded after Halfway Haven Lodge, a local accommodation and fueling spot for riders north of Sault Ste. Marie, announced on February 24 that it was closing for the remainder of the season.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, we regret to announce the immediate closure of The Halfway Haven Lodge for the remainder of the snowmobile season, effective February 24th, 2022. There will be no fuel, accommodations, or food services available, therefore we do not advise travelling the snowmobile trails to the lodge for safety reasons,” Halfway Haven wrote on Facebook.

The lodge is located smack in the middle of the Canadian Shield wilderness, accessible by car only through a 60 kilometre logging road off of Highway 101. Despite its isolation, Halfway Haven plays an integral role in the snowmobiling ecosystem of northern Ontario. It acts as a halfway point on trails connecting Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa and Chapleau, both towns that depend on snowmobile tourism.

Without Halfway Haven as a fuel stop, the machines that groom the trails aren’t able to make the full trip, meaning snowmobile trails leading to Halfway Haven have had to close.

“My groomer takes 360 litres to make it to Halfway [Haven]. He can’t carry enough fuel to return home,” explained John Breckenridge, president of the Sault Trailblazers snowmobile club. “I need fuel there, and I need a place for my operator to spend the night.”

The trips from Halfway Haven to Wawa and Chapleau are both over 100 kilometres. With trails closed due to lack of grooming, snowmobilers who headed out for a ride on February 24 found themselves stranded. Ben Pehlemann was one of them. He took to Facebook to ask if anyone had a truck that could transport six snowmobiles from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa after the trails closed on him.

The lodge’s abrupt closure was due to Halfway Haven staff, who live at the facility for three months of the year, quitting without notice. “Unfortunately, they decided for whatever reason that they were no longer interested in being there at the lodge,” says Dan Hollingsworth, a spokesperson for Halfway Haven. The lodge did put a call out for new employees, but considering how late into the season it is and how remote the location is, there were few applicants.

Breckenridge says he heard the staff were unhappy with on-site management and that’s what prompted the walk out. In an attempt to get the lodge running again, the Sault Trailblazers have scheduled a conference call with Halfway Haven to see how the club can help. “It affects our whole district,” Breckenridge says.

At 24-years-old, the lodge’s structure is makeshift at best. Built as a hunting cabin, it runs on a diesel engine that costs $400 a day. This combined with its remote location makes staffing and upkeep difficult. To ensure the longevity of Halfway Haven, Hollingsworth and his team at N1 Solutions are working on behalf of Korey Wischmeyer, a Michigan-based businessman who owns the lodge, to create a plan to redevelop the property.

“Our plan is to continue to work with Korey and his team to build out what we feel is a feasible new design for the facilities. We’re looking at completely modernizing and redeveloping the site, looking at reconsidering the staffing model, and then building out a feasibility study,” Hollingsworth says. “Then we’ll present the case to Korey to make a further investment into the facilities.”

As part of the plan, Hollingsworth says they’re looking at increasing the operation time to eight or nine months a year; introducing adventure-type activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, sport fishing, and improving trails for ATV use.

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