Courtesy Mackenzie Whyte
Kahnawake’s Sports and Recreation Unit is busy preparing outdoor facilities and programming to be made available to the community over the next two weeks.
The “Winter Freedom” project, named to acknowledge the way people have been stuck indoors since the onset of the Omicron variant, builds on last year’s efforts to provide winter activities.
“What’s been hard with this pandemic is everybody is so isolated from each other,” said Mackenzie Whyte, interim director of the sports and recreation unit. “So this is an opportunity to interact with people safely and still be able to maintain social distancing while improving their mental and physical health.”
Last year, sports and recreation invested in new equipment to facilitate outdoor activities, including a snow groomer for trail-making and a mini-zamboni – resembling an adapted tractor – to water rinks and skating paths.
The equipment will once again be put to good use, but while last winter the Kahnawake Sports Complex was closed, this year outdoor programming will complement the hockey and private skating available at the indoor facility.
“We aren’t servicing everybody by just having the arena open,” said Whyte, adding this is particularly true for those who aren’t interested in speed or competition.
“Everybody has a different need when it comes to recreation, especially outdoor recreation,” she said.
Like last year, the main emphasis is on providing a venue for outdoor activities for people to access as they wish, but now there will also be some structured programming.
Sports and Recreation is partnering with the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Program to provide planned activities as well for community members to enjoy. A schedule of these activities will be made available soon.
In addition to last year’s facilities and trails, there are some new features. A small sliding hill for children is being reserved next to the Bridge Memorial along the walking path. If all goes well, there may even soon be an outdoor curling rink in the community.
Sports and Recreation had originally anticipated using Sports Complex staff to manage the facilities, so when the building was reopened sooner than expected, it put the project a little behind schedule. New staff will need to be hired to support the Winter Freedom project.
Everything should be available by the time the Winter Carnival ends in two weeks, but this weekend Kahnawa’kehró:non will be able to drop by the arena to borrow cross-country skis or snowshoes for free.
The equipment will be located in the old press box, or people can visit the pro shop worker.
Sports and Recreation also has a wheelchair that skis can be placed on for those with mobility issues.
Kahnawa’kehró:non who prefer a slower pace can enjoy binoculars and birding books compliments of the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office. There is also a list of tracks of animals native to the area for people to try to find.
Community members will also be able to borrow harnesses for “skijoring” – an activity in which a person is pulled on cross-country skis by up to two dogs.
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.