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OTC DEFENDS Prescott-Russell Trail!
The 72-kilometre Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail at Vankleek Hill. DARREN BROWN / POSTMEDIA
While city officials in Ottawa think about ways to expand bike paths, those in the rural county of Prescott and Russell are pondering closing a 72-kilometre trail.
The Prescott and Russell Recreational Trail, which opened about a decade ago, runs on an unused Via railway line from St. Eugene in the east, through Vankleek Hill and Plantagenet, then skirts the Larose Forest and Alfred Bog before ending in the village of Hammond, close to Ottawa’s eastern boundary.
But the path, which is also used by snowmobilers, hikers, dog walkers and horseback riders, is under-utilized. There have been complaints that the long distances where the trail runs past agricultural fields are “flat and boring.” Others don’t likethat there’s no cellphone service in certain areas, said Guy Desjardins, mayor of Clarence-Rockland and chairman of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell.
Cyclists have also complained that the stone dust surface of most of the trail is only suitable for all-terrain bikes, and there are few amenities along the way.
Meanwhile, it is costing $400,000 a year to maintain the path, cut grass and repair features such as bridges, said Desjardins. To continue maintaining the entire trail would mean a one-per-cent tax increase for the county’s 85,000 residents spread over 2,000 square kilometres.
However, there’s the possibility of saving parts of the trail, such as the portion around the village of Bourget, said Desjardins. This part of the trail is paved and lighted, and there’s an old railway station under consideration for renovations.
Patrick Connor, the executive director of the Ontario Trails Council, said he was surprised to hear Prescott-Russell is considering closing the trail. The council is developing multi-use trails on unused railway lines all over Ontario, and closing a trail is rare.
“It’s a very significant trail in Eastern Ontario. It binds the communities together,” said Connor, who added that the council provided funding to refurbish parts of the Prescott-Russell trail only last year.
Connor said there are economic development possibilities and infrastructure funding sources available. “The Ontario Trails Council would be more than happy to sit down and look at ways to keep it open. Too much time, effort and investment has been put into it.”
Multi-use trails built on railway beds help to keep bicycle, snowmobile and other traffic off roadways, said Connor. One railway trail near Guelph is used by Mennonites for horse-and -buggy traffic, for example. In rural areas, trails are a more cost-effective way to improve physical fitness than building pools and arenas, he said.
“Trails are the No. 1 growing recreational infrastructure.”
The possibility of giving up on the trail came up recently during budget discussions, said Desjardins. The trail was created through a lease agreement with Via, which included an agreement to maintain areas around the railway line.
A final decision is to be made in budget sessions this fall.
Ontario Proclaims the “Ontario Trail Act”
With over 2,500 trails, supporting 19 recreational activities, in 430 communities = 80,000 km in length, Ontario has one of the largest trails systems in North America.
Today the Ontario Trails Council was pleased to be informed by the Government of Ontario that the Ontario Trails Act has been proclaimed.
The Ontario Trails Act, changes other Acts of Legislation to reduce liability exposure for land owners, increase fines for trespass, as well as introduce other changes that will make it easier for groups to hold events, while providing better guidance on issues of risk exposure and liability.
“We attended a number of sessions to secure and promote better understanding of the Act as it moved through parliament, “says OTC President Jack De Wit. “we worked with all stakeholders; the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, we sat with the Ontario Federation of Snowmobiles, the Bruce Trail, Hike Ontario, Conservation Ontario, Ontario Federation of Trail Riders as well as landowners and others to make an act to improve recreational trail in Ontario. We thank all for their input and both Minister McMahon and Minister Coteau's offices for their support.”
The Ontario Trails Council has over 240 members representing various trail stakeholders that are directly affected by this legislation. Economic Development, non-profit, community clubs, sport groups, tourism offices, health units, provincial and municipal parks, conservation authorities have all worked with the Ontario Trails Council to bring focus to government on trail issues.
“Ontario Trails Council regularly communicates about, negotiates, develops and implements trails throughout Ontario,” said Patrick Connor Ontario Trails Executive Director. “The Ontario Trails Act is a positive response to the member surveys, round table discussions and numerous phone calls and concerns people have expressed through OTC to make positive change for trails in Ontario. The “Ontario Trails Act” gives trails a place of importance.”
Going forward, Ontario Trails Council and its members will work with all groups to affect more positive change. We have written a Landowners Bill of Rights, we are working on Accessible Trails and a Provincial Trails Count for 2017.
For more information on Ontario’s trails visit the our website at www.ontariotrails.on.ca