David Frisch,
for the Residents for Safe Trails

On October 5, 2018, the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail opened.  Many people in Almonte opposed making it a “mixed use” trail, meaning one where ATV’s and snowmobiles could share it with pedestrians, bicyclists and skiers.  We felt nervous and fearful that such a mix would be unsafe, and that there would be noise- and air-pollution issues that would transform life for all users, particularly those who live near the trail.

We were buoyed by word that even the county’s Medical Officer of Health was on the record supporting our safety concerns.

https://millstonenews.com/medical-officer-of-health-endorses-mm-rail-trail-compromise/

But the majority of Lanark County councillors were intent on pushing it through, and their will was done.

To calm the concerns of the opponents, Lanark County said there would be a two-year trial period.  ‘Give it a chance, it won’t be as bad as you think.  And there’ll be a review in two years.’

Cynics thought that was a distraction tactic.  But then, they’re cynics…

So now the review is underway (with a decision expected to be made later this month, or maybe in October.)  But the problem is how the review is being structured.  In a June, 2019 document from Lanark County, the review committee was to have fifteen members, including “One representative of landowners adjacent to the trails” and “One from the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit.”  (It also called for one representative each from “a local Snowmobile club” and “a local ATV club.”)

But last fall, Lanark County changed the structure of the committee!  The updated document removes the voices of the adjacent landowners and the District Health Unit…yet the seats for the snowmobile and ATV clubs remain! Cynics call this manipulating the sample to get the answer you want.  But then, they’re cynics.

What would we tell the committee if we could? We’d try to tell them how dangerous the OVRT has become.  How Stop signs and speed limits are ignored by motorized trail users dozens, even hundreds of times every day. How virtually every form of regulation – from speed limits to hours-of-use, to practices dangerous to both users and bystanders – is toothless and unenforceable. How limits on allowable vehicle types are meaningless when we have seen, with our own eyes and cameras, dirtbikes, cars, and a cube van. (Yes, a cube van.)  How living next to the trail has become like living next to a highway, with stone dust, noise and stink that can go on literally around the clock.

So how’s that trail workin’ for ya?  For those of us who live near the trail, and for many others who’d like to use it with confidence in our safety, not well at all. What we have seen and experienced in these two years is not at all what was promised. The current review must be inclusive and thorough to be legitimate. The County must listen to its residents.

As residents who live along the trail and those who are concerned about the motorized traffic through the community, we are looking for two things.

The first thing we want is a bypass of the townsite of Almonte

We know that ATVs and snowmobiles are a fact of rural life. But the townsite of Almonte is not rural. There was a bypass before the creation of the OVRT; we want one back. Riders aren’t being told they can’t ride; just to keep it where it’s appropriate. Riders have 296 kilometers of OVRT, 61 of them in Lanark. We’re asking for nine.*

*https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/compromise-proposed-for-recreational-trail-through-almonte

The second thing we want is to provide a voice to all concerned residents who are shut out of this review.

If you feel the way we do, we’d love to hear from you. Conversations with people on the trail lead us to believe that there are many, many people who feel the same way we do about motorized use of the trail…but, unlike the ATV and snowmobile clubs, we lack a way to let each other know we’re here.

So we’re starting a new community group to provide a voice to those who are directly affected:  Residents for Safe Trails, and an email address, residents.for.safe.trails@gmail.com.

Some examples: If you oppose the hazardous mix that exists on this mixed use trail, let us know. If you don’t use the trail because of the machines, let us know. If you feel you have to calculate what day and time it is and how many machines you’ll have to deal with, let us know. If you’ve had an incident related to the trail, we definitely want you to let us know.  No need to embellish or exaggerate; the facts will speak for themselves.

And if you don’t agree with us, well, you’ve already got plenty of advocates for your point of view: OFSC, BEAST, other trail clubs, and numerous county councillors who love this form of recreation and seem intent on furthering only those interests.

There’s lots more to say – such as tales of close calls on the trail, ineffectual policing, and much more – and we plan to say it, but we’ll keep that for another day.

In the meantime, please reach out to us as soon as possible; as noted above, this review is underway right now! (Your confidentiality can be assured if you wish.)