There was a glimmer of hope Burk's Falls council would have ice installed in the Armour Ryerson and Burk's Falls Memorial Arena early in the new year.
However, that glimmer is all but extinguished.
Acting on a report from arena manager Graham Smith, council will now consider putting ice in the arena next March for summer ice programs.
COVID-19 remains the culprit for the ice not being installed because user groups are reluctant to commit to using the arena in a coronavirus environment.
Mayor Cathy Still says the most hours the municipality has been able to secure from users is nine a week. And that's a far cry from what's needed to make it financially worthwhile to open the arena up to skating-related activities.
“We've tried for six months to get more users,” she says.
As a result, Still says the municipality is referring any inquiries from potential users to the arenas in Sundridge and South River since they have their ice in place.
By doing so, both communities can at least bolster their ice time, she says.
Still says money isn't the only reason why Burk's Falls isn't installing ice at this time. Enforcing COVID-19 protocols also is a factor.
If a minor hockey group or association wants to use the ice, that group “would be in charge of the COVID rules and they would have to make sure those rules are put in place,” she explains.
“But if we had public skating, the arena staff have to make sure COVID rules are followed and that becomes a logistical nightmare for them because we just have two employees.
“The burden would fall on our staff and I'm not really comfortable with that.”
The last thing the municipality needs is for someone to contract COVID as a result of municipal staff failing to enforce COVID rules, Still says.
As an alternative, the municipality is making the arena surface available for non-ice activities such as pickle ball, archery, cadets and soccer.
Still says social distancing is easy to accomplish with pickle ball and archery because there are only a small number of participants involved at one time.
In the case of cadets and soccer, both groups are responsible for any COVID oversight.
Still speculates the only way for the ice to go in early in 2021 is if the plant at one of the arenas in the surrounding communities breaks down and Burk's Falls is asked to take on minor hockey teams.
With this being only a remote possibility, Still says the municipality is now turning its attention to March, when the winter ice would normally be taken out and replaced with summer ice.
Winning Techniques of Emsdale has been renting the arena in June, July and August for about 10 years for camps focused on figure skating, coaching in general and hockey coaching.
Still says COVID interrupted the camps last summer, but she hopes COVID rules are downgraded by the spring so the program can resume next June.
Burk's Falls shares responsibility for the arena with Ryerson and Armour townships.
Rod Ward, an Armour councillor, is disappointed the ice won't go in the arena this winter.
He says Armour council has been of the opinion that the ice should be installed.
While Ward acknowledges that only a handful of groups have committed to using the arena, he's wondering if there's a silent group of potential users no one knows about.
“We may have people hiding and not bothering to (commit) because there's no ice in the arena,” Ward says.
“But if the ice was in, they might pursue it.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget