The OVRT debate – PRATAC’s stand

Multi-use: will this be a blessing or a curse?

The Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail (OVRT) stretches over 296 kilometers from Smiths Falls to the Town of Mattawa. Almost all of the municipalities along the route have embraced it as a four-season, multi- use economic and tourist development opportunity.

The OVRT in Mississippi Mills has been bought and paid for by the taxpayers and will be maintained, by the taxpayers. It is also the shortest, widest and safest route through town and across the river for a snowmobile, an ATV, or a horse. It is safer for the people in town, pedestrians and vehicle operators as well. It keeps these machines off narrow roadsides, the sidewalks and dangerous ice on river crossings. Every other route brings them closer to houses, roads and on the sidewalks of the Town, across private property, more of a danger to everyone.

Opponents of multi-use depict scenes of the elderly out for a leisurely walk being run down and children and their caregivers being terrorized or even the occasional death, all by godless creatures on noisy, smoking, fire belching machines.

The owners of these machines (snowmobiles and ATVs) are generally responsible individuals, your friends and your neighbours. They are driving machines, which are licensed, insured, sophisticated and quiet.

“Snowmobiles produced since June 30, 1976 and certified by the Snowmobile Safety and Certification Committee’s independent testing company emit no more than 73dB(A) at 50 feet while travelling at 15 mph (24 km/hr.) When tested under the SAE J-1161 test procedure.”

For comparison purposes, normal conversation at three feet produces approximately 70 dB (A). Check it out!” (Snowmobile associations) 

Information about ATV dB levels are harder to get but in recent tests the average appears to be about 84-86 dB at ½ throttle, no load, if they are unmodified. 

Recent checks done of the ambient water sound levels along the river ranged from a low of 75 dB to highs of 84-87 at the Victoria Mill and 82-83 under the railway bridge on the River Walk.

Tests 60-70 feet away from the upper cascade (under the railway bridge) the levels were 75dB. So chances are that if you don’t see the snow machine, you won’t hear it!

Advances in technology have also made these fuel injected machines very fuel efficient with few emissions.

Members of these clubs have access to and operate everything, from chainsaws, to backhoes, chippers, trailers and groomers. As a result much of the maintenance on the trail is done by the snowmobile and ATV clubs, offsetting work that would have to be done by the County or Municipality and charged back to the trail.

I am not sure if you have ever done any walking on the trail in winter when there is any amount of snow but it is a miserable slog without the grooming which would be supplied by the snowmobile clubs. When groomed in winter, it is a veritable highway for skiing, large tired bicycles, horses or walking as well. They apply for grants, much of which they put towards operation and maintenance of trails, e.g. railings on the bridges in Carleton Place and Pakenham, which are already completed. The clubs also do regular tours of the trails to pick up debris and keep them clear of brush.

The 5/8 granular “M” rock that is proposed for the surface of the trail, when graded and compacted is the best for multi-use trails and allows for any kind of traffic, small tired bicycles, or wheel chairs. It is easily repaired and a much more sensible and refreshable surface than asphalt. The costs of other suggestions such as paving should be reserved for other infrastructure projects throughout the Municipality. I.e. look after the basics first.

The clubs also do their own policing in addition to the OPP. They post control signs, speed control devices and restricting its use by violators. They charge annual fees and as the OVRT will be considered part of their system of trails only those registered members of their many clubs, snowmobile or ATVs will be allowed to use it. Part of their membership fee pays for $15 million in liability insurance.  Third party liability insurance is applied to any trail they use by the OFATV and OFSC under a land use arrangement. Members violating the rules are banned from trial use. They set the speed limits at 50 km/hr. on the open trail and 20 km/hr. in built up areas. There are restrictors placed at road crossings and bridges to slow down or reduce the speed limit. They police their own but also depend on patrols by the OPP.

A recent article went to great lengths to describe the efforts made by Town employees and merchants to paint Almonte as “destination,” then by a stroke of the same brush they insulted and discriminated against a whole segment of the population that drive snowmobiles or ATVs. Making every effort to attract customers and then turning them away if they come by Snowmobile or ATV. Does it matter how they reach the “destination” whether it is by car, bus, automobile, snow machine or ATV. You are missing the whole concept. They are not screaming through town on devil machines or looking for a place to set up a cannabis outlet.  They are coming to this “destination” to shop, to go a restaurant, to have a drink or walk the River walk (a beautiful addition to the downtown by the way). We should be welcoming them, accommodating them, particularly during the winter when business is slow at best, look at Carleton Place. Remember the impression they get will determine whether they come back when they are in their cars with their families or on their motorcycles. There is a two-year trial period proposed by the County: is that not a reasonable enough time to evaluate potential problems?

Yes, there are and will be snowmobiles and ATVs operators who do not follow the rules. But for every one of those there is group of avid cyclists riding tandem at 20-25 km/hr. in an 80-90-km/hr. zone or several joggers running on the side of the street oblivious to the traffic and the danger in which they place themselves and others. Collectively we are anything but perfect, so let’s not make the exception govern the ones who make the effort to follow the rules and do things properly.

Well, is the OVRT going to be a blessing or a curse? If we whine and bellyache about the potential noise, the possibility of death, the terrorizing of our youth and seniors, it will definitely be a curse, but if we are accommodating and embrace the potential that is there, if we are adaptive in a constructive way, it will truly be another blessing for an already blessed town.

Look on it as another point of access to beautiful downtown Almonte. If we restrict it to a couple of dozen walkers and cyclists, we will simply grow in on ourselves: sorry, Traveller, because of your mode of transportation you are not welcome in Mississippi Mills.

Brian Gallagher
President PRATAC