GREENSTONE — A long-time sledding hill in Geraldton is now private property.
The hill, commonly known as Barker Hill, was part of property purchased by a construction firm. At one point, the property had a municipal office but it was sold and the building converted into a residence for out-of-town shift workers.
During a family outing, Tracy Grandmont, her son Dustin Dumais, and her grandchildren were told by an employee of the company that they were trespassing on private property.
“We were just sliding and a lady came, and she said she was asked to block off the road and to put up no trespassing signs, and we can not be here anymore,” Grandmont said.
Grandmont told the individual that Barker Hill has been a generational hot spot for youths to enjoy the winter activity, but was told that people using the hill would disturb the occupants of the work home at the top of the hill.
Upset by the news, Grandmont decided to address to inform the public via social media.
In a Facebook post, Grandmont wrote, “No longer allowed to slide at Barker Hill- what a shame! Generations of sliding now it’s considered trespassing.”
Grandmont said she was upset at the time of writing the post, but her feelings were more shock than anger. She said she understands that the company owns the property, but the overwhelming sadness of losing a nostalgic part of the community overtook her.
Afterwards, Grandmont took the initiative to plead her case with the company. She said she was informed that the company could be held liable if somebody was injured on the property, and also that excessive noise would disturb the shift workers, and that people were using the company's garbage bins.
Grandmont asked if it would be possible to put up a sign that stated the public could use it at their own risk. She was told that wouldn’t be an option because legally the company would still be liable.
“It’s not like they are loving to do this. They are just kind of focused on the legality of everything,” Grandmont said.
Grandmont is hoping for alternatives, with Some people commenting on Grandmont’s Facebook post suggesting that the municipality could construct a new sledding hill.
“It’s great that people are thinking and looking at different options," Greenstone mayor James McPherson. "Making a hill out of the snow where we don’t know what is in the snow is a liability to the town. If we make the hill at the wrong angle and somebody gets hurt, it’s not an engineer sliding hill.”
McPherson expressed that his heart goes out to the town but at the moment the risk of an improperly engineered recreational hill made out of the snow from behind the arena or an embankment would cause more harm than good to the municipality and the people they serve.
“Anything in any municipality does, liability has skyrocketed. Our insurance has gone up 150 per cent more over the last four years, and liability is one of the biggest issues we have to deal with,” McPherson said.
McPherson said he is deeply saddened by the outcome of Barker Hill, and acknowledged the history of the land where the Geraldton community has made many memories over the years.
“It’s just unfortunate. We want people to be outside. Get some fresh air. Get out with the family. We want the kid out. In the Geraldton ward, that’s one of the few hills in the entire ward. We’ve had discussions in-house about any other hill that the town or the municipality has access to and we don’t,” McPherson said.
Grandmont said she and her family will miss the hill.
“I’m just speaking for myself, but this hill is family time, it’s exercising, it’s fresh air, it’s a way from electronics, and it’s a stress reliever," she said. "It’s not just a hill.”