The Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve has reason to be excited for the upcoming Ontario Tourism Summit.
This year the Forest is among three nominated companies vying for the Sustainable Tourism Award, part of the Ontario Tourism Awards of Excellence handed out annually by the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.
Tegan Legge, the Forest’s general manager, tourism and recreation, said this nomination reaffirms what the staff and management have been doing for years.
“We know we’re sustainable, but now other people are seeing that. We’ve been able to integrate what is traditionally not seen as a green thing, being the forestry side of the world, into tourism. But be able to show people how you can do it right,” she said.
Haliburton Forest is an 100,000-acre property with 100 lakes and a diverse collection of trees and wildlife. It is host to educational programming and sustainable forestry, which draws tourists, students and forestry professionals year round.
This nomination has been long in coming for Haliburton Forest, which has operated for 50 years.
“I’m excited and I’ve only been here nine years. I can’t imagine how people who [have long since left] are going to feel about this. We’ve done something right and now potentially are going to be rewarded for it,” she said.
The Forest’s sustainability practices are tied to recycling and use of local food.
Instead of taking food waste from their restaurant, The Cookhouse, to the dump, for example, they use it to feed the resident pigs.
“The biggest focus for us is more [about] the education of bringing people in. We have the Canopy Tour. We have the Wolf Centre. The focus that was put toward this award was that the idea is to conserve our forest, and to get people to have a better appreciation for them, you need to get them into the forest and we do that through our program,” she said.
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario board reached out to the Forest to “highly recommend” they put their nomination forward, Legge said.
She plans to attend the Ontario Tourism Summit where the winners will be announced on Oct. 24 at the Caesars in Windsor.
Staff and management would be “over the moon” if they won, she said.
The other nominees in the category – Cowbell Brewing Company and the Windmill Lake Wake and Eco Park – were both great businesses, she said.
Legge said the award boosts their profile to the public and within the industry.
It helps with standing out at the upcoming tourism conference, Rendez-Vous Canada, which draws close to 2,000 people, 600 sellers, representing 13 provinces and territories and more than 600 buyers from 29 countries.
“You can be a company and talk about the different things you do, but when you have awards behind your name that have been appointed to you by your peers, it legitimizes you as a business and makes you stand out a bit more,” she said.
Two years ago Barrie Martin of Yours Outdoors won this award.
To be included with another Highlands-based experiential tourism operation is an example of how the community is leading the way.
“It just shows also that in our community we have some really cool things going on that are getting more people here and checking us out,” she said. “It means not just a win for Haliburton Forest, but it means a win for the whole community.”