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Fun Run For a Great Cause

Fun Run For a Great Cause

Riding the 30th Annual Poker Run in the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve

This classic ride is about more than just sledding. It's about community, bonding with nature, and the spirit of the sport.



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When our friends and long-time campers in the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve, Steve and Deanna and their daughter Lily, invited us to join them for the 30th Annual Poker Run, we said yes without hesitation. Ranked as one of the Top 10 snowmobile destinations in North America, this pristine trail network was high on my list of places to ride! A lifelong OFSC trail and lake rider, I had not had the pleasure of touring the over 300-km trail network that is carefully maintained across 100,000 acres of woods and lakes.

Arriving Friday night after a wintery drive, we headed straight into the office to register, pay the $70 fee, and get our trail map and instructions for the poker run. The parking lot was full of trucks, trailers, and sleds everywhere; despite the concern about parking, we had lots of room to unloaded our three sleds. Our hosts came out to lead us out to their winterized trailer a short ride from base camp. I knew right away this was going to be a great weekend to add to my sledding memories!

Snowmobiling: an ageless appeal

Up early on Saturday, we met up with several other long-time forest campers who also spend their winters snowmobiling. We assembled our group of eleven, ranging from  12 years old to 50-plus. With a variety of experiences, we represented many types of riding styles. It's not often these days you can find an activity that sees two teenagers spending an entire day with family and their older friends, but snowmobiling has that appeal. Especially for Lily (12 years old) and Leah (15), who spend their summers as professional go-kart racers on Ontario tracks. These two young ladies have been snowmobiling since a young age, and took their driver training the moment they were old enough.

Community spirit

The objective of the poker run is to stop at the five checkpoints spread across the trail network. At each stop, you are greeted by volunteers offering up a place to warm up by the wood stove, refreshments, and the all-important token for your poker hand at the end of the day! Dishing out over 978 pancakes, endless cups of hot chocolate, cookies, bowls of chili, and even hand warmers, this was a community at its best. Shout-out to Mike at Duck Lake Cabin for the only stop with marshmallows! At each stop, we spoke with our fellow sledders, shared stories of the day, and met people from across the province. Even at the busiest of locations, it’s a rare occasion these days to see so many avid sledding friends and family out for an event.

As there is no order to which you have to arrive at the checkpoints, and our group was so familiar with the park, we choose to ride windier single track trails in the opposite direction of most riders. As a result, we enjoyed the wilderness of the forest and only saw large groups of other riders at each checkpoint. What really blew my mind was that on a regular day, there is a 100-sled per day limit to ensure no overcrowding and maintenance of the trails. Yet here we were with the official number of riders at 471, and we hardly saw other groups on the trails all day! And the trails, smooth sailing! In the winter, grooming that has been a challenge at best, but the staff in Haliburton managed to deliver awesome trail conditions for the entire weekend. With 50 lakes staked for crossing, main double-track, and loads of the beautiful single tracks in the forest, the trails were mint!

Heading back to base camp, token in hand, we drew our cards and sadly did not come away with the top prize, a Skidoo 2019 MXZ 600 2-stroke. Long-time participant and lease camper Scott Charity of Kinnmont, Ontario was the winner with three queens and two 10’s. There were many other prizes and giveaways to win; my reward was a handcrafted ash wood paddle made right in their paddle shop, which I will cherish and use all summer when out on the water. All the proceeds went to the Haliburton Fire Services, and the 2019 event raised $15,000.

Sledding at its best

With the weather on our side, we grabbed a pass for Sunday and finished off the weekend with a ride out to the scenic spots around the forest. Packed with nature displaying its winter wonder, we rode to Johnson Lake, where the girls ventured into the naturally formed ice caves, and took in the icy views at the Gorge and the breathtaking panoramic view from the Outlook and Marsh Lake Lookout.

Given that the Haliburton Forest is located at the top of the Algonquin Dome, which boasts unmatched winter conditions while the rest of eastern North America suffers from repeat winters of poor snowfall, and an averaging sledding season lasting 16 weeks, chances are snowmobilers will be riding here longer than some regions this winter. As we loaded up and headed out for the 2.5-hour drive back to the GTA, I started planning a return to the forest, as it was some of the best riding I have experienced in years.  

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