By Chris George

Our family just returned from a terrific holiday in Newfoundland, where we enjoyed the outdoors with our extended family in St. John’s and surrounding area. Highlights included jigging for cod off the shores of St. Phillips, climbing a trail to the bluffs over Topsail Beach, and visiting cousins in villages dotting the Bonavista peninsula.

One day we enjoyed a wonderful hike along a trail that follows a meandering river in the town of Manuels. Our cousins told us of a popular hiking trail that they go to regularly to visit with friends, or walk their dog. It was a trail that had geological interests; it accessed a couple of town parks with play structures; and, it had a coffee shop where we could relax during our walk.

The trail that our hosts were boasting about was the Conception Bay South (CBS) rail trail, the abandoned Newfoundland Railway line that ties a string of small towns along the shoreline of Conception Bay. “The CBS T’Railway” itself has become a tourist attraction on the Avalon Peninsula – a feature on Great Places in Canada. It is an active transportation trail that restricts motorized vehicles. At its information centre, CBS provides maps that highlight the natural attractions of the area and features of the trail, including ATV loading areas. The CBS maps have the ATV bypasses clearly marked.

During the afternoon that we traversed the trail, our family saw a lot of activity on the pathway – hikers and dog walkers, seniors strolling, a children’s day-camp hiking to a river swimming hole. We were in search of jumping rocks along the river so the boys might beat the heat of the day.

Ironically, our experience in CBS happened the same day that Lanark County rejected Mississippi Mills’ compromise solution — to have the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail (OVRT) through Almonte designated non-motorized, with existing bypasses around the community enhanced. Instead, Lanark County has chosen to designate the whole OVRT as motorized / multi-use, including the stretches through the populated neighbourhoods and downtown core of Almonte and Carleton Place.

Lanark County Councillors have said many times they are most concerned with the interests of the motorized trail users in snowmobile clubs and ATV clubs, who will now be able to use the OVRT as a thoroughfare from one end of Lanark County to the other. The councillors and administrators of Lanark County have been consistent in their bias for motorized trail use over the interests of local residents, even though Petewawa Mayor Bob Sweet acknowledges: “The mix of user groups on the trail is incompatible.”

I cannot help think though, when I recall the activity on the CBS T’Railway in Newfoundland, that Lanark County has a narrowing view of the value of a rail trail as an integral part of our local communities. The County’s thinking runs counter to all trends of recreational, health and economic community development. CBS had their public debate over motorized use of the trail – not all good news – however, the CBS T’Railway exists today as proof that workable compromises can work. The CBS Council had a vision of using the trail to motivate residents’ physical activity and to develop its local natural features into tourist attractions. Today, CBS has a wonderful asset that local residents use regularly – and boast about.

Trail development discussions are occurring in many communities – in fact, in another Newfoundland community, it was on CBC news last week. Corner Brook’s Mayor is defending his community’s non-motorized bylaws against the demands of ATV tour business interests. Mayor Charles Pender points out that ATVs within the town are dangerous for local residents. He also sees the value of accommodating all users’ interests and is pursing talks with ATV and snowmobile clubs. So, as is goes, we are not the only corner of Canada with this challenge.

The solutions found in Corner Brook and with the CBS T’Railway are much like the reasonable accommodation suggested by Mississippi Mills Council — to develop bypasses for ATVs and snowmobiles while developing a wonderful greenpath for their town. What a shame Lanark County willfully turns a blind eye to such an inviting vision of community development.