words & photos :: Kristin Schnelten. Article sponsored by Duntroon Highlands.
Climbing the clubhouse stairs at Duntroon Highlands on a brilliant autumn afternoon, two volunteers beam and wave from their golf carts. “Sun’s still shinin’!” says one. “And my face is shinin’!” laughs the other.
The latter sports a thick, grey mustache that only good guys can wear. The kind of facial hair that hints at a lifetime filled with adventure, a near-handlebar masterpiece that leaves no doubt who laughs the biggest laughs and tells the tallest tales.
These guys—former executives, living their best lives in retirement—and their grinning greetings embody the energy in this 300-acre slice of heaven: Life is good. Get outside and enjoy it, any way you can.
Some of this positive, inclusive vibe came with the place when husband-and-wife team Martin Rydlo and Stacie Smith purchased the property and business two years ago. But with the fresh, young, forward-thinking owners on board, the now four-season resort is near to bursting with a warm character that makes it unique along the escarpment.
Martin’s vision began when he caught wind of the course coming up for sale. “I thought, ‘Wait a second. We’ve got to do something with this. We can’t let this go into hands that wouldn’t allow us to give people public access to it. We need to make sure it doesn’t get developed into four separate estate lots that never see the light of day again for people.’”
A long-time skier next door at Highlands Nordic, Martin knew of the existing relationship between the neighbouring businesses and hoped to expand upon it. The cross-country ski trails that wind their way through both properties are now joined by mountain bike trails, built and maintained by Collingwood Off-Road Cycling Club (CORC), and a new set of wooded trails—10 km and counting—for hiking and snowshoeing.
Martin, along with summer students and a host of volunteers, constructed the new trails, which intersect with the brand-new section of the Bruce Trail that runs along the top of the property. “The day after we purchased it, I called the Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC) and said, ‘We’ve got to move the trail off the road and up onto the escarpment.’” They were flabbergasted, and at first didn’t believe him.
“They were hoping one day they’d have a chance to build the trail there, but the previous owners wouldn’t allow it. ‘Never in my lifetime,’ the owners had said.” The BTC jumped on the news and immediately re-routed the section to its rightful home along the ridge.
The new Duntroon trails that loop through the forested areas surrounding the golf course are dotted with informational signage, handmade by guide Gord Salt. Gord, a kindhearted, soft-spoken naturalist who spends his winters as a cross-country ski instructor and coach, leads scheduled tours of the property.
The Waterfall Trail clambers between cleaved sections of the escarpment, and Gord makes periodic stops to describe the karst formations and underground waterways.
On the Escarpment Tour, he points out age-old trees clinging to the limestone, some battling blight or canker, others growing stronger each season. He spies a hidden piece of equipment in the bush and describes its one-time use as a grooming machine. Its long-forgotten story—towed behind a horse, prepping the hill for winter fun on wooden skis—is tied to the generations of family farms in the area, a history Gord has thoughtfully researched.
Traipsing after Gord through the woods is a lesson in slowing down, investigating what’s in front of your eyes, appreciating the tiny berries. His spirit is contagious. Standing at the crest of the ridge, looking out on the course and beyond to the view of the bay, Martin says, “It’s just one of those things. When you’re passionate about something, you get passionate people around you like Gord, and things just go right.”
The hiking, biking and snowshoeing, the symbiotic relationships with neighbours and partners, it’s all part of Martin’s community-based outlook and hope for a destination resort. A frequent traveler in Europe and beyond, he appreciates the well-established rhythm of a day-long outdoor adventure followed by an après drink and a satisfying meal.
And it’s about the whole family having fun. “If mom wants to go for a round of golf, dad and the kids can mountain bike or go for a hike, and everyone can meet back at the clubhouse,” he says. Mountain bikers chat with golfers on the deck over an afternoon pint, snowshoers and fat bikers end their day at a firepit on the patio with s’mores and hot cocoa.
With out-of-the-box events taking place (speed golfing, anyone?) and a proposal for unique on-site lodging, Martin’s initial vision is already taking shape. “Sometimes the pieces of your puzzle come into play and they fall into place quite nicely. We’re just very fortunate it happened to work out for us.”
Duntroon Highlands is open seven days a week May 1 – October 31 and weekends in winter. Six special trail tours are scheduled for the fall, including Waterfall Trail & Cider Sipping Tours on Saturdays and Escarpment Trail & Lunch Tours on Sundays. Check out duntroonhighlands.ca for details on hiking, biking, snowshoeing and golfing along the edge of the escarpment. Be sure to plan ahead, especially for guided tours. Find trail-specific information and book your spot at duntroonhighlands.ca/escarpment-trail-tours.