Although most county councillors are in favour of the Goderich to Guelph Rail Trail (G2G), some members are questioning how everything came together.
Paul Vander Molen, Huron County representative on the G2G steering committee and Chris Lee, vice-chair of Goderich to Guelph Rail Trail Inc., provided an update to council at the May 13 committee of the whole meeting.
North Huron Mayor Neil Vincent said while he supports the idea of the trail, he has some concerns.
Namely, he said North Huron already has a lease on part of the trail.
“What assurances can you give us on the liability,” he asked.
Vincent also believes the consultation process has not been as transparent as G2G Rail Trail Inc. has indicated.
“It has been a closed process so far,” Vincent said.
In his view, the concerns of adjacent landowners have not been addressed sufficiently.
“Adjacent landowners can make or break a trail,” he said. “Don’t tick off the neighbours.”
He also urged Lee and Vander Molen to make sure they have support from stewardship groups “on paper”, citing a similar situation in North Perth where the municipality now has to have a full-time employee to maintain a trail.
Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn said a recent press release from the G2G “caused problems” in his municipality.
He also believes landowner issues have not been addressed and the press release made it appear some local politicians have “gone back on their word”.
Ginn then requested a copy of the interim lease be provided to county council.
Vander Molen defended the actions of the group so far, saying they’ve been very transparent and worked closely with a group of county staff.
However, he said it was not their intention to “circumvent county council” and they are willing to listen.
“We are concerned about the concerns of adjacent landowners,” he said.
Bluewater Mayor Tyler Hessel spoke highly of the trail and the work of G2G Rail Trail Inc. so far.
“I think we should commend a group that works towards active transportation and healthy lifestyles,” he said.
Hessel said the G2G was a perfect example of “not worrying about borders” and regional partnerships.
“This is a game changer. It will be bring new people in our communities,” he added.
Moving forward, Vander Molen said there are some issues that need to be addressed.
“Our biggest concern is ATVs,” he said. “As far as landowners are concerned, we are stopping the ATVs until clubs can convince the Ontario government (to allow them on the trail).
Another concern is milkweed, which some stewardship groups would like to see planted along the trail to attract Monarch butterflies.
However, because of the potential dangers of milkweed to humans, Vander Molen said the plant must be managed carefully.
“That’s why it is important for the county to be involved,” he said.
The lease between the Ontario government and G2G Rail Trail Inc. will commence on July 1.
“It’s exciting to see some concrete action,” Lee said. “Our vision has always been to move to the point where users have a seamless experience.”
Lee said the newly introduced Ontario Trails Act will “break down all barriers to trail development.”
Vander Molen admitted they were “surprised as anyone” when the government approved the lease and told them they would be moving forward on July 1.
Once completely open, the trail will span 127 km from Goderich to Guelph.
Local municipal councils can expect visits from G2G representatives in the near future, Vander Molen added.
The goal is for the municipalities which the trail runs through, including Huron County, to take over the lease.