KEMPTVILLE, ONT. -- A new toboggan hill opened up in Kemptville this week, offering residents the chance to stay close to home instead of hitting up other hills farther away.

Now, it's up to the community to help it remain open by following all COVID-19 protocols in place, including social distancing.

North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford was at the site on Saturday with her 8-year-old son.

"We had a real need for a sledding hill in town as lots of our families have been going elsewhere," Peckford said, noting residents would travel to Ottawa or as far as Limerick Forest to go tobogganing.

"With the pandemic, we understood how important it is to have outdoor activities so we approached the Ferguson Forest Centre," Peckford said. 

The Ferguson Forest Centre Corporation has a mandate with the municipality to provide recreation to the community. 

"It was very simple," said president of the corporation Carl Doucette. "The municipality wanted a hill, we had the hill, so we started collaborating on making it happen and it came together quite quickly." 

The site also boasts 10 kilometres of hiking trails, a large dog park and a number of memorial sites.

"It's not a mountain, it's not really a big hill but, my heavens, I'm shocked that the kids are enjoying themselves so much and its just fantastic," Doucette added. "It is so important during COVID, so we are very grateful that people are using what we provide." 

Signs are posted to remind all visitors to follow COVID-19 protocols like social distancing and to not share sleds. 

Ferguson Forest Hill Signs

Peckford said it's now up to the families to help self-police the site to keep it accessible. 

"We are aware of the concerns around social distancing. We posted lots of signs and we're asking families to self-police," Peckford said. "If they get here and there's too many people on the hill, then there are many other things for them to do while they are here in Ferguson Forest.

"We've been keeping an eye on this amenity since it opened earlier this week and we'll keep a close eye on things but, at this stage, because the hill is large and you have lots of space to move around, we are very hopeful that families will respect social distancing." 

Families on the hill were just happy to be outside in the nice weather with their kids. 

"I think it's awesome," said Jacob Brown, tobogganing with his family. "It's too far of a drive to other ones and it's right around the corner and it's beautiful."

Ferguson Forest Hill Jacob Brown

"The GT can go really far. You can make it very far. It's very steep so you get a lot of speed," said Max with his friends. "We're having fun!" 

North Grenville Coun. Doreen O'Sullivan was also at the hill with her grandchildren. 

"To create a hill is a big deal and a lot of money. So, we have a hill here and it's small but it's mighty and it's easier to walk back up," O'Sullivan said. "It's ideal for all ages. I've gone down there, my grandkids have gone down there, and everybody's having fun. We're having a blast."

O'Sullivan also noted that getting the family outdoors can increase happiness and lead to better mental health. 

"I've had my grandchildren at home from school this week and, at the end of the day, they needed to get outside," she said. 

"Just going for a walk is a little boring. Bringing them over here was amazing. Just the difference in the look on their faces and how happy they are." O'Sullivan added. 

"People are really thrilled to have something that is really close that's in town," said Peckford.

"Council has been saying since the spring that outdoor activity is crucial (for) mental health and wellness as long as you follow those public health protocols. Immediate family only, socially distance, don't get on another sled with another kid from another family, and we found so far that families are very respectful," she added. 

Some hospitals in the region have seen a spike in tobogganing injuries, with more families enjoying the outdoor activities, and the mayor encouraged everyone to be safe when sledding. 

The hill is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk at the Ferguson Forest Arboretum, 241 Honour Way, Kemptville.