The volunteers who are part of the Corporation du Sentier récréatif Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail are sharing numbers which they hope will convince the mayors who sit on the United Counties Council of Prescott-Russell that the trail is worth keeping.

Since 2016, the counties’ budget has reflected reduced spending on the 72-kilometre stretch of trail from $400,000 to just $139,000 budgeted for 2020. The 2020 budget is about $114,000 less than in 2019; the coordinator’s salary for 2019 represented about $70,000 of that amount. The full-time trail coordinator retired in 2019 and is not being replaced; instead, any administrative duties related to the trail will be absorbed into the counties economic development department. The $139,000 budget amount represents trail maintenance costs only until the end of August 31, 2020, when the 20-year lease with VIA Rail expires. The Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail is located on the former rail line owned by Via Rail. There is no information available about the future of the lease arrangement.

Serge Joly, secretary of the trail corporation, says it is a shame that mayors and municipalities don’t see the value of the trail, which he says is an important tourism asset and that it will only become more important as time goes on.

Joly shared numbers this week from two counters that were installed in 2019 at two points on the trail: one was installed at Vankleek Hill and a second was installed at Hammond.

What are the numbers? The counters showed that there were 30,000 users between April 1 and November 30, 2019. That does not take into consideration that the trail is used during the winter months, in most cases by snowmobilers. But an electronic counter installed in Plantagenet between December 1, 2018 to April 1, 2019, showed more than 5,000 users.

Connecting the western-most point of the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail to City of Ottawa trails — and connecting the eastern-most point of the trail to Rigaud are on the trail corporation’s “to-do” list. Joly feels that the trail is one more conduit that could bring tourists to the region from Ottawa and from Quebec, although he says there are already many out-of-province and overseas visitors using the local trail.

“This is important infrastructure for Prescott-Russell and we should not close it. It should be a place for families to walk safely and we should value it,” says Joly, who mentioned that about $1 million has been spent to create the trail.

Cycling and the use of electric bicycles is on the rise, notes Joly, with the hope that local mayors will see the value of having a trail which links the region.