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Looking west on the Prescott-Russell Recreation Trail near where it crosses Highway 34, north of Vankleek Hill. Photo: James Morgan

Two mayors among those who want Prescott-Russell trail to remain open

Efforts are being made to find a path forward for the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail.

On September 23, United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council voted to not renew the lease for the 72-kilometre trail with VIA Rail for an additional two years.  The VIA offer remains on the table, but if no further efforts at a different agreement are made within 90 days council rejecting the previous offer, the trail could be closed and decommissioned.

Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel and Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins voted in favour of the two-year agreement.

Riopel remained hopeful that VIA could respond with another offer that could possibly include more funds for annual trail maintenance.  The rejected agreement would have had VIA provide $40,000 per year for maintenance and upgrades.  The UCPR Department of Public Works estimates that the trail requires approximately $6 million in bridge, culvert, and surface improvements over the next 10 years.

“It might be a different story,” said Riopel if VIA offers a better deal.  Otherwise, he is willing to investigate if Champlain Township could assume its section of the trail if the UCPR lets it go.  However, Riopel said that will depend on if he has support from council.

Desjardins is already exploring the possibility of keeping the section from Bourget to Hammond open.

He said that local snowmobile clubs want to have the corridor for winter use and that the trail provides a place for people to walk or cycle without concerns over road traffic.

“It’s a safe place for families to go with the kids,” said Desjardins.

He said efforts are being made by the UCPR to organize further discussions with VIA.

“I don’t intend to take no for an answer,” said Desjardins.

A petition on change.org called Keep the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail OPEN-Garder le sentier récréatif OUVERT had received 4,951 signatures as of the afternoon of Tuesday, October 13.

Noel Paine of Blackburn Hamlet is an avid runner.  He also writes and hosts a podcast about running.  Paine spends a lot of time on the Prescott-Russell trail because he lives close to the western terminus of the trail at the Clarence-Rockland city limits.

In the past, Paine has used the trail to run from Rigaud to Ottawa to raise money for cancer research.

“I think it’s just a little short-sighted,” was how he described the UCPR council decision.

Paine is suggesting that the federal passenger rail agency donate the land to the UCPR for trail use.

“What does VIA need the land for?”

VIA has previously indicated that the land, which is a former Canadian Pacific Railway line, could be used for a future additional passenger line between Ottawa and Montréal.  However, VIA has not indicated that it has immediate plans for such a project.

Paine is planning to walk or run the trail during the final week of October and wants residents to join him wherever convenient.  He said that his plan is not meant as a protest, but to raise awareness.

Serge Joly was involved with the formation of the trail in 2001 and currently serves as treasurer of the non-profit corporation that manages the trail on behalf of the UCPR.  He said residents need to tell local leaders that they want the trail to remain open.

“It’s up to the population of Prescott-Russell to see if they can change the minds of the mayors,” said Joly.

James Morgan

James Morgan is a freelance contributor. He has worked for several print and broadcast media outlets. James loves the history, natural beauty, and people of eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

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