Ontario Trails News - London Free Press gets it closest to the mark in reporting on Bill 100
Concerns about Ontario’s proposed Trails Act are, like the trails themselves during spring thaw, “a mess right now.”
That’s the word from farmers and trail advocates who say a provincial bill that would draw together a disparate tangle of rules into one law has received widespread misinterpretation.
The Ontario Trails Act is intended to codify for the first time how public trails are proposed and approved on private land.
But some have said the bill encroaches on landowners’ freedoms — something Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Don McCabe says just isn’t the right interpretation.
“The reality is if you own a farm and somebody wants to go through it (with a trail), you have to sign off on it,” McCabe said.
It’s purely voluntary, he said, and he dismissed as false some claims that farmers risk having their land expropriated for trails.
Patrick Connor, executive director of the Ontario Trails Council, said it could take years to recover from the rhetoric.
“It’s not bad legislation for landowners. It’s not. It’s actually an improvement for landowners,” Connor said.
He said the proposed legislation, Bill 100, draws provisions now under 48 different pieces of legislation into one coherent set of rules.
The intent, he said, is to help build trails that offer recreation for users and legal safeguards for landowners. “This isn’t an us-versus-them agenda,” he said.
There are more than 30,000 kilometres of year-round trails in Ontario, plus tens of thousands of seasonal snowmobile trails.
Many of them run through or adjacent to private land, where farmers have allowed easements.
It says any landowner may agree to an easement, but doesn’t insist that such permission be given, said Neil Currie, general manager of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
“It’s a bit of a confused mess right now,” he said.
Connor said when landowners designate an area for trails, it can lead to less land damage because trail-walkers and -riders will know where the parameters are.
Farmers are often vexed by people in four-wheelers driving through their fields. There are also concerns that people entering a property without permission will jeopardize biosecuruity measures on famrs.
Currie said he has seen photos of someone ripping through a field of soybeans, in summer, with a snowmobile.
He said that exemplefies the lack of respect some people have for private property and the damage that can be done.
OFA says trespassing penalties should be toughened beyond the current maximum $50 fine, perhaps re-defining the maximum penalty as $20,000, the maximum amount that can be collected under small-claims legislation.
“Offering land for a trail to the public is a courtesy that the public has to return,” Currie said.
The bill has passed second reading in the legislature and will go to committees before a final reading.