New partners, more events, even a world record attempt. These were only some of the ideas that came up during a public consultation session about how to make the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail more viable.
The meeting, held in Plantagenet on May 16, was the first of four concerning the trail’s future. About 25 people showed up, though most were either from the snowmobile club or part of the Recreation Trail Corporation.
The recreational trail has been a hot topic since this year’s budget deliberations by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. During that time, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit made a case for its potential health benefits; even counties staff was reluctant to cut the trail’s budget. Ultimately, the counties cut it to $208,400 from $412,900 in 2016. Initially, nothing was allocated for repairs and maintenance.
According to Louise Bissonnette, Project Officer for the Recreational Trail, though in April about $20,000 was put towards maintaining the trail this year—barely a third of last year’s $57,000.
And the counties are still struggling with how to make it more sustainable.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Éric Boisclair from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit began the meeting by reiterating the health benefits of having the trail. Essentially, having access to recreation, which is “being able to participate in structured or unstructured physical activity.”
About 50 per cent of Ontarians are considered “inactive,” and that inactivity is factor in about 60 per cent of deaths related to chronic illnesses.
Today, the trail runs about 72 kilometres along an old VIA Rail train track, five additional parking lots have been added in the last two years, and the counties’ agreement with VIA lasts until 2020.
This is where the public consultations come in. The trail corporation is looking for ideas to inject new life into the trail.
Not long into Tuesday’s meeting, Dave Melbourne, asked about what type of advertising was being done for the trail.
“I’ve looked myself and I don’t see anything that’s saying, ‘Wow!’ to the community, ‘Come and try our trail’ or make it so it’s very interesting for people to come to it,” he said.
Melbourne is the vice-president of District 1 of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. He said the trail is “a highway” for snowmobilers in the winter. For the summer, he said, “I don’t think it’s known enough.”
Bissonnette mentioned there was a website and facebook page, but acknowledged there was still “lots of work to do about advertising.” And added, “Of course, the future of the trail being a little iffy right now and without any budget for (advertising) this year.”
Last year’s budget allocated $6,000 to the trail for publicity; this year, zero.
Melbourne’s comment kicked off a theme of trying to garner more attention for the trail.
His wife, Kim, is the president of the snowmobile club. She had a few suggestions: a membership club for volunteers with discounts at local restaurants or stores; engaging community partners like Valoris (where she works); she even suggested attempting a world record by having people hold hands in a multi-kilometre line.
“It’s clear people feel like the trail isn’t advertised enough,” said Bissonnette after the meeting. “In previous years, I mentioned we had activities like birdwatching, photography outings and even stargazing. People were talking a lot more about the trail.”
So what happened?
“Our group of volunteers got tired.”
If there’s a silver lining to the trail’s budget cuts, it’s that there’s more room for volunteerism.
The $20,000 allocated for maintenance is just enough to keep the grass mowed on either side of the trail, according to Bissonnette. And that doesn’t include maintenance around the pavilions.
Melbourne took that as an opportunity.
“Why not have a competition between towns to see who can have the nicest pavilion?” he said. “That way you get some maintenance, too.”
However, this doesn’t address the most expensive part of maintenance, which Bissonnette says is culvert repair and tree removal.
The trail has had partners in the past, one of which is the snowmobile club, which is responsible for trail conditions in the winter.
One attendee claimed his local ATV club has approached the trail to form a similar partnership and the offer “fell on deaf ears.” Bissonnette said the current lease forbids motor vehicles on the trail in the summer.
While no solid gameplans came out of Tuesday’s consultation, Bissonnette said they’ll take away some of the ideas. “If ideas come from the community, there may also be more support for them.”
The trail corporation is hoping to present a solid plan based on the public consultations to the United Counties in August.
In that time, Boisclair says, “The community has to come together and show the United Counties it’s worth investing in recreational trail.”
The other meetings are:
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- Bourget—May 24, 7 p.m., Bourget community centre
- Vankleek Hill—May 30, 7 p.m., Champlain Township office
- St-Eugène—May 31, East Hawkesbury Municipal office
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