by Chris George

Friends of the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail (FOVRT) delegation was pleased to raise the issue of the development of the rail trail before Mississippi Mills Council this week. Judging from the almost 400 who attended the County’s Open House on February 16, the future of the rail trail is a subject of great interest and great concern in our community.  In initiating further public dialogue, FOVRT hopes that the discussion will not devolve into an “us vs them” confrontation. Rather, we hope we can find a solution that will maximize the potential of the rail bed for all residents in our community.

NOTE – Residents have until March 1st to submit to the County their views on development of the rail bed. E-mail OVRT@lanarkcounty.ca

Here is a synopsis of the FOVRT presentation delivered to the Council on Tuesday. With only 10 minutes allotted, I chose to accentuate the positives of developing a recreational trail. By definition, a “recreational trail” is an “active transportation route”; a non-motorized trail.  The FOVRT vision is to establish a rec trail through Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place that would loop into the existing routes and rec trail systems of Ottawa – roughly 30 km of the 300 km rail bed to be developed.

A rec trail is most attractive because of its multiple benefits: economic, tourism, and significant community development and health benefits for its local residents. Rec trails encourage choices of physical activities which result in the greatest health impact for young and old alike. An active transportation route through and between the fastest growing centres of Lanark County will provide new opportunities for the Mills and CP. It allows us to promote a safe and accessible experience for families and groups who are interested in running, cycling and a variety of community activities.

It has great potential to enrich our communities’ tourism draw. A rec trail will complement other tourist features like the Riverwalk, downtown shopping, farmers markets, etc. We only have to look at the Niagara Region, western Quebec, or the Waterfront Trail along the St. Lawrence Seaway to know active transportation routes are a boon to local economies, accentuating local tourist attractions. (In Almonte for example, a rec trail compliments the River Walk and the trail network plans in our downtown. How would a motorized trail through the downtown core co-exist with some of these plans?)

Equally important are the health benefits that would result with the promotion of a rec trail. There are many community groups and Council advisory committees that advocate for this active transportation route that will be safe and welcoming for all residents. Given that 70% of activity on such a trail is local residents, it is essential that everyone can enjoy the trail – seniors, children, and those with accessibility challenges.

In the Council presentation, I made a point of stating emphatically that “We’re not against motorized vehicles.”  The fact is Lanark County is fortunate to have a great trail infrastructure already in place.  There are plenty of existing snowmobile trail circuits, off road trails, as well, ATVs have the ability to travel county roads. We have nothing against ATVs or snowmobiles, only a keen interest in developing a new and different tourism and economic attraction in our communities.  Residents and groups supporting the FOVRT vision see the tremendous potential of developing a trail for strictly active transportation where, today, nothing like this exists.

I concluded my presentation to Council by quoting Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet when he addressed our community at the Lanark County Open House. Mayor Sweet stated he realized that, with a motorized, multi-use trail, “the user groups are incompatible.” He stated what many trail studies have concluded as fact: the use of a trail by ATVs, motor bikes and snowmobiles will curtail or completely deter other recreational users. Users most affected by the presence of motorized vehicles are young families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Even usage by more active users like cyclists and runners will decline significantly. These facts are at the core of the FOVRT vision to see the rail bed developed as a recreational trail.

However, FOVRT believes developing this rail bed does not have to be “an either-or” for our communities. It can be the opportunity for us to have both. We currently have an extensive motorized trail infrastructure. We should seize the opportunity to develop this trail as a non-motorized, recreational trail. Running through the heart of our towns, the rec trail will provide safe commuting for students, runners, and those who wish to cycle or hike between the communities. It will promote safe, physical, environmental, and improved public health outcomes for citizens of all ages and abilities. A rec trail would be a new feature for the downtown cores, tying together our communities of the Mills and CP. And it wonderfully compliments the many rec trail systems that connect us to Ottawa residents and National Capital Region tourism.

For more information about Friends of the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail, visit www.rail-trail.ca.