The Eastern Ontario Health Unit is urging the United Counties of Prescott and Russell not to close the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail.

Warden Guy Desjardins recently said not enough people are using the trail to justify its annual $400,000 price tag, and that the possibility of closing the trail would be part of this year’s budget discussions.

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, CAO and Chief Medical Officer of the health unit, wrote a letter to the United Counties, in order to “express our concern regarding recent reports of the potential closure of the Prescott-Russell Recreation Trail”

Roumeliotis calls the trail “an important health asset to our population,” arguing that having access to recreational opportunities like the trail is a “key priority” for improving the health of the population and reducing chronic diseases, “particularly in rural settings.” The letter points to the United Counties Official Plan, which demonstrates “a commitment to recreation and to creating more bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities.”

The letter goes on to say a lack of exercise is a health concern, “particularly in rural areas.” About 50 per cent of Ontarians are inactive, says the letter, and “compared to the urban area of Ottawa,” rural Eastern Ontario has a higher mortality rate for cancer and heart disease. Citing Statistics Canada, it says in the southeast region, people suffer from “significantly higher rates of diabetes, obesity, poorer physical and mental health, participation and activity limitations, hypertension, COPD and smoking than in the province of Ontario as a whole.”

Trail council launches petition

The Ontario Trails Council is also advocating against the closure of the trail, and has launched a petition to “Save the Prescott-Russell Rail Trail.” The wording of the petition criticizes the United Counties council for raising the issue “suddenly and without notice,” and says “we do not believe leaders fully understand the benefits of the Prescott-Russell Rail Trail to peoples health, to tourism and to the environment.” So far, 121 people have signed the petition.