ST. LUNAIRE-GRIQUET, NL. – The Viking Trail Ski Club may not be huge, but it has persevered now for 20 years.
And the president of the club sees reasons to be optimistic about its future.
On Saturday morning, March 31, members of the St. Lunaire-Griquet cross-country ski club celebrated a milestone – its 20th anniversary.
The celebration included speeches from club president Gary Suley and former mayor Gerald Hillier – both of whom played important roles in starting the club in 1998.
St. Barbe-L’Anse aux Meadows' Christopher Mitchelmore also sent a message along congratulating the club.
Food was served and most of the games for the children were held inside, due to rain, although some members ended up hitting the ski trails anyway.
The Viking Trail Ski Club was started mainly through the ingenuity of people like Suley.
Interest generated in starting a club after residents were introduced to skate skiing on St. Anthony trails.
Suley, who has skied his entire life, says it was considerably faster than what he was used to. It had intrigued him.
Instead of having to drive a half hour to St. Anthony, just to hit the trails, a group soon got together and decided to push for one in their hometown.
Suley says they found the support of town council at the time, led by then-mayor Gerald Hillier.
“They were running a JCP, cutting walking trails at the time,” recalled Suley. “We spoke to Gerald and he said it was a good idea.”
The plan was for the trails to be used in the winter for skiing and in the summer as a walking trail.
“It went from me thinking about getting a pair of skates to Lesley [Hillier, treasurer of the club] getting a pair, and then we said we’ll go and throw some people together,” said Suley, who has been club president since its inception. “Four got involved, then four became eight, and eight became sixteen. Next thing you know, here we are 20 years later with an operational cross-country ski club.”
Nevertheless, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. The club has faced challenges holding onto members.
Suley says membership grew for a while but outmigration eventually led to a decrease.
He estimates the town population has decreased from about 1,100 people when the club started to 600 people today.
Meanwhile, total club membership, Suley estimates, has gone from nearly 80 at its peak to less than 20 today.
Furthermore, he says adults in their twenties and thirties aren’t having as many children as previous generations. Therefore, there are fewer children to sign up.
He says the number of jackrabbits in the club has decreased from nearly 40 to seven.
However, Suley feels there is cause for optimism.
Recently, he says men with younger families have started discussions to have snowmobile races.
And they have accepted Suley’s offer to use the ski club’s building to host meetings to organize races.
As they host these meetings, he believes interest in using the trails will grow.
“All these young people that are thinking about doing this, they have a wife or girlfriend and some of them have children, and some of them are couples that are planning on having children,” said Suley. “They love the outdoors and by bringing them around the ski facility, they have already seen now, in the last few weeks, they don’t want to lose this.”
He says some are already interested in snowshoeing and skiing.
“So, I think I might have ignited a little spark that may actually develop into salvation for the ski club itself,” he said.
Whatever happens, Suley says it’s been “awesome” to see people, including his own children, join the club and enjoy the trails over the years.
“It’s been very rewarding,” he said.
He wanted to leave the same message with the town's people as he left 20 years ago when the ribbon was cut at the opening ceremony: “It’s yours, come and use it.”