Hiawatha Highlands Column was Public Service

On March 25, I wrote an article about the owl attacks up on the Hiawatha Highlands trails. Two people had been seen in the Sault Area Hospital Emergency Room for wounds received after being winged by an owl. I had suggested that this was a public safety issue and that something more should have been done by the hospital and Hiawatha Highlands to inform the public.

Assistant ski instructor Yan Marquis, Customer Service at Hiawatha Highlands, took exception with what I wrote, and penned a letter to the editor that ran on April 23, speaking in his “own name and not on behalf of Hiawatha Highlands.”

The letter said “First, the article is written as if we didn’t care and second, it suggests that we didn’t do enough about it.”

If I made it sound like any staff at Hiawatha Highlands didn’t care, let me be the first to correct that. As an avid outdoorswoman I have nothing but respect and fondness for those caring for the trails. I am grateful for their work and for the work of the numerous volunteers involved in maintaining this gem of nature year-round.

I do feel the need to address some of the letter’s content to address assumptions and misstatements of fact.

Yan’s letter states: “I am led to believe that the concern behind this article is not really about public safety, but more about public entertainment. In which case, I agree, it was a very entertaining story considering the skiers attacked are alright.”

I can’t think of any trip to the Emergency Room being entertaining… and just because the skiers are “alright” probably doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t want others to have to endure the same painful experience. My article was absolutely posted for public awareness and safety. Similarly, I would hope that the community would be informed were it a fox or dog attacking people.

The letter writer also says that their co-workers were not interviewed to verify what procedures were used to inform skiers. This is not the case. I was clear to state that I spoke with Tina at Hiawatha Highlands “who was truly helpful.”

Yan lists nine things done to inform skiers of the menacing owl. Tina had indeed told me six of the nine listed in the letter, and I summarized her points to read: “She told me that all trail pass holders were informed of the barred owl attacks via email, and that a message was posted on their website, and Facebook page.” I concede I could have added that they notified the Soo Finish Ski Club, but notifying only the trail users was not my point.

As for what Hiawatha did to inform skiers, please note that six of the methods of communication are all on the computer. Non-computer methods of informing skiers included “casual discussion” and occasional skiers being informed when they bought passes. What of the members who are not on the Internet or don’t pay close attention to their email? 

 Regardless, never once did I suggest or mean to suggest that the team at Hiawatha Highlands had not done enough to inform their users.  I think they did a good job communicating with skiers, overall.

Yan’s letter suggests that only two categories of people would be left uninformed: non-skiers and trespassers. Unfortunately, this is only the case if someone can guarantee that the owl will never strike off Hiawatha Highlands property.

Since owls don’t “respect” human boundaries such as property lines, the public at large, especially the neighbours bordering the Highlands, deserve to be informed of the winged threat.

Requesting that the media be informed about owl attacks is reasonable. I also don’t think that some signage in the office or at the trailhead is such a bad suggestion, given that neither method is onerous nor costly.

A quick Internet search will show you that owl attacks are serious, and perhaps becoming increasingly more common as we encroach more and more on their habitat. The search results will also show you that it is common practice for owl attacks to be reported in the media, often by the parks where the attacks have happened. The Sault should be no different.

An ounce of prevention… right?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *