County puts safety first at event venue

By Cecilia Nasmith

Northumberland County's support of two youth- and family-oriented events is endangered because of safety concerns that are becoming evident with the venue.

A letter from organizer Rod Simpson expressed appreciation for the support over eight years in which he has been associated with the Northumberland Forest Turkey Trot (a YMCA Northumberland fundraiser) and the Kawartha Pine Ridge Elementary Athletics Association South Area cross-country meet.

Simpson noted, however, that the county will no longer issue permits for these events because they far exceed the capacity of their venue, the Cobourg Scout Reserve camp on County Road 45 north of Cobourg. As a result, parking overflows onto the county road with very risky consequences.

County forest manager Todd Farrell was accompanied by a roads engineer at county council's Jan. 30 meeting in describing their Dec. 12 meeting with Simpson and explaining the problems that the two autumn events present.

Fourteen schools and perhaps 400 students participate in KPREAA, and parking space is inadequate for this and the estimated 90 cars the event draws. For the Turkey Trot, they typically draw 400 people in 200 cars. The maximum the parking lot can hold is about 120 cars, Farrell said.

The roads staffer offered her own numbers. The 80 km/hour speed limit means speeds of 100 km/hour are not uncommon, she said, and it's a high-volume road with 8,000 to 10,000 cars per day. This makes parking on the highway a high-risk proposition for participants and spectators, as well as the travelling public. She had heard of cars backing into ditches while maneuvering to get out, and shared concerns about excited children who might not exercise sufficient caution near the road.

In the end, she said, there is a risk in such a situation that the liability could come back on the county.

Suggestions to arrange parking off-site and shuttle buses to transport participants were declared unsatisfactory or unworkable.

As a retired teacher, Cobourg Mayor John Henderson stated that the safety of children must be paramount.

Brighton Mayor Brian Ostrander noted that it's not the school buses that cause the KPREAA congestion but the many parents who turn out to watch their children participate.

“It's unfortunate we can't host an event like this at that venue, but safety comes first,” Ostrander agreed.

For smaller events, Farrell said, the venue offers so many amenities. It's the site of the former Northumberland Ski Club, with a small ski chalet, toilet facilities and picnic structures in a beautiful hilly setting.

They now give a careful look to expected attendance numbers when they review proposed events for the Scout camp.

Meanwhile, Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson expressed his hope that the two events can continue in another local venue. Warden John Logel suggested, for example, that there is a ball diamond that is no longer in use in Alnwick-Haldimand Township, probably no more than three kilometres from the camp. Cramahe Township Mayor Mandy Martin suggested looking into possibly using conservation areas.

Ostrander was the only councillor voting against the subsequent motion to direct staff to continue to talk with Simpson and examine this issue. Suggestions for alternate venues have been made, he reasoned, so what more is there for staff to do.

“The assumption is, we don't want to lose these events,” Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson said.

“We want to make sure these events can go on, simple as that.”