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Oct. 31, 2020 | Saturday
Local News
Letter: Heritage trail deserves a full, comprehensive plan

Dear editor:

“There will be no construction this year. But we’re hoping that next spring we’ll be ready to go,” (Rick) Meloen said. “And then we just keep trucking on.” 

Trucking? Construction? Am I the only one cringing? Based on the letters to the editor in The Lake Report so far, I believe the words “trucking” and “construction” are exactly what many people are afraid of given the work that has been undertaken this past summer on the very first kilometre of an 11-kilometre trail. 

If any of you are disillusioned or confused about what has happened to date (i.e. the slathering of gravel and the slaughter of trees) I want you to know that this is not what I had envisioned.

Four years ago, when I proposed the Upper Canada Heritage Trail to be the town’s Canada 150 legacy project, I had a very different vision and process in mind for its “rehabilitation.”

I initially used the terms “restoration and rehabilitation” in a very vague sense because my main intent at the time was to simply ensure that the corridor was recognized by the town so that it would be held in perpetuity by the municipality for the benefit of its citizens – both now and 150 years from now.

Most of you probably aren’t aware of this but a few councillors over the years have approached private landowners who own lands contiguous with the trail to solicit their interest in purchasing parts of the trail from the “town.”

 Apparently, this corridor was of no use or value to those councillors. If your ears are ringing, they should be: since elected representatives are expected to act in the public interest, you, as a citizen of this town should find these actions repugnant.

Fortunately, however, the first battle was won and the heritage trail was selected as the legacy project in 2017. It will remain in the public domain. For that, the Canada 150 Committee should be commended.

However, as is the norm in NOTL, we tend to jump into things with no vision and no plan.

I have been a trail user for 45 years. I run it, walk it, cycle it and walk my dog along it.  I probably use the trail more in one week than the entire heritage trail committee, council and administration collectively use it in one year.

While I don’t approve of ATV use on the trail, it happens. There are also equestrians. It is a multi-use trail with numerous competing interests along varying sections.

Some parts of the trail are well-established, some sections have been planted over with grape rows and tender fruit, and one section is even barricaded for safety reasons because its embankment has been washed out and eroded (Line 9 to York Road).

I am intuitively aware that any “work” along this trail will be met with controversy. This is exactly why I advised the Canada 150 Committee that a comprehensive visioning process with the community was required in order to first establish an accepted vision prior to the development of a design and implementation plan.

Different approaches and solutions will be required for different sections of the trail. Not everybody is going to agree on how the trail will look or function but everybody should be able to say that there was an opportunity for their voice to be heard within a public engagement program.

To date, however, none of that has occurred and that’s exactly why a debate is now raging on within the confines of the editorial sections of our newspapers. Even the most naive planner at town hall could tell you that this is not how public participation should be conducted. But let’s just keep trucking on.

To put what is happening in perspective, if any of you wanted to make major renovations to your house, you wouldn’t be able to initiate any work without the approval of design drawings and the issuance of a building permit from the town.

Why is it, then, that the town is able to embark upon a major public project (that has the potential to impact not just a house but an entire community) without first the preparation and approval of its own design plans? 

This is all very sad but so painfully predictable. The very first steam-powered railway in Upper Canada deserved so much better than this. 

Cam Lang

Concession 1