End of the (cross-country) trail

by Jacob Berkowitz

After a more than 40-year run, this year the Mississippi Valley Ski Club (MVSC) will not have a ski trail.

The now defunct trail was created in about 1976 and thanks to the generosity and goodwill of up to 14 private landowners ran from Carleton Place to Wolf Grove Road. Over the course of this about 12-kilometres, the trail passed through a mix of landscapes that captured the essence of Lanark County—fields, forests and wetlands, ending in the north at a serene beaver pond that capped the innate Canadian-ness of the trail.

In its first decade or two, the trail was used by a bevy of parents that ran a local Jack Rabbit program to initiate kids into this winter sport. One of them, Almonte’s Perianne Jones, became an Olympic skier. In recent years, more than 100 local skiers enjoyed, deeply loved and were grateful for this local wonder of a cross country ski trail.

This seasonal trail (early December to March 31st) existed based on an annual phone call “hand-shake” between MVSC and private landowners, and the club’s $5-million in liability insurance, acquired through our membership in X-Cross Country Canada, and paid for with member dues.

In mid-November, along with early snow, a keystone landowner informed the MVSC they no longer wanted the trail on their property. We took down the MVSC ski trail signs from the property the next day.

As a result, we lost trail access leading south at the Rae Sd. Rd. About 95-per cent of all ski trips on the trail used this access point and the part of the trail between the Rae Sd. Rd. and just north of Drummond Sd. Rd. (Two years ago, access north from Drummond Sd Rd. was lost, and this year also south from Drummond).

The club executive met to discuss the situation. We widely discussed options for a partitioned, truncated MVSC trail (with three, separate, short, unconnected bits) and from this came the consensus decision that there were too many risks for the club and club members to pursue this option. In brief, the other parts of the trail are more rugged, and there are landowner and parking issues that need to be resolved before shifting the bulk of club use to other sections of the trail.

The fact is, a lot has changed in the club’s 40 years, and the current situation is a case of growing pains. The trail used to be more lightly used by a handful of individuals and families who had personal relationships with a far fewer number of landowners. In the past several years, we’ve had: more landowners, and the building of homes close to the trail; more members and trail users; and a heightened climate of landowner rights and trail politics.

There have also been neighbours annoyed and inconvenienced by numerous cars parking on Rae Rd. at the trail entrance. Importantly, some landowners believed that out-of-season trespass on their properties was aggravated by the existence of the ski trail. (The posted MVSC signs clearly noted that the trail was only for winter use.)

Our goal in making this decision is to give the MVSC the time and breathing space to work with the broader community (politicians, officials, landowners, recreation groups….) to create a new, long-term, sustainable cross-country ski trail solution.

We’ve had an amazing run as a community trail thanks to the long-term generosity of private landowners, and if you know them, please thank them personally.

All previous MVSC trails on private land are now inaccessible. If you ski on them, you are trespassing.

We’ll hold a MVSC meeting in early winter to brainstorm next steps. If you’d like to be added to the MVSC mailing list, please let me know: jb@jacobberkowitz.com

Jacob Berkowitz

President, MVSC