By Matt Driscoll
There are few people who get to watch their vision unfold in the way Mike Jefford has.
From a simple idea he had last year to get people out and about in Bracebridge during the slowest time of the year, Jefford’s idea for a skating park and Winter Village is now the talk of the town.
“I was there last weekend and I saw tons of people,” says Jefford. “I saw a two-year-old boy lacing up his skates and his parents are taking him out for his first skate. His parents are taking pictures and he’s super happy – right there, that’s what it’s all about.”
The skating trail, which winds around Memorial Park, is regularly drawing good crowds and creating a great deal of buzz on social media.
The Winter Village will be in the spotlight this weekend when the Fire and Ice Festival, the first of its kind in Bracebridge, takes over the downtown area.
In the way of fire, the festival will feature fire artists, fireworks and fire pits throughout downtown. The event will also have interactive ice displays, a downtown tube run as well as live music and traditional carnival activities.
The Winter Village started with a spark of inspiration Jefford had while strolling through the park last year.
“I traveled for three months over one winter and then two and half months the next winter. Then the next winter I was here, and there’s nothing going on,” says the 29-year-old. “I live downtown and I was kind of walking through Memorial Park and I thought, man we’ve got to do something.”
Jefford ran for Town council during the 2014 election and decided to include the idea as part of his election platform. Jefford lost the council seat to Chris Wilson but the two formed something of a partnership to move the project forward.
“A couple of weeks after the election I ran into Chris at Sawdust City. I was talking to him, and he said, ‘you know I really liked your idea of a skating park in Memorial Park’,” says Jefford. “We put together a formal proposal from there and he helped to push it at council.”
The project was not without its hiccups, as the Town’s general committee originally voted to turn down the project before it went to the court of public appeal on Facebook. Dozens came out in favour of the project and Chris Howey also came on board to volunteer the services of Beaver Creek Institution’s work crews. Apparently the public outcry did not go unnoticed by council.
“When they voted on it at council they actually turned around and voted 9-0 in favour of the proposal,” says Jefford. “Power to the people.”
Since then Jefford, Wilson, Howey and Coun. Don Smith have been leading the planning charge, with Beaver Creek inmates maintaining the ice Monday to Friday, and volunteers picking up the work on the weekend.
Jefford himself is out snowblowing the ice and trails when necessary. He also built and installed the glowing LED lightboxes around the park after getting the idea while attending a music festival last winter in Montreal.
For Jefford, it’s all part and parcel of being a good neighbour and helping build a better Bracebridge for future generations.
“I think it helps keep kids ambitious, motivated and healthy,” he says. “I’m huge on community and I’m always going to be a big part of it.”
Those with story ideas or comments for Bracebridge Today can e-mail Matt Driscoll at firstname.lastname@example.org