A letter from the L’Orignal Chevaliers de Colomb St-Jean Baptiste (Knights of Columbus) prompted some discussion at the most recent Champlain Township council meeting.

The letter inquired about the possibility of converting an unused Champlain Township road allowance into a pedestrian or cycling trail. The land in question is referred to as the portion of the old rue Roland between Chemin de la Baie (Bay Road) and rue Des Chalets. The trail is located within the Ivaco Rolling Mills buffer zone, according to a letter from Marcel Clément, Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus group.

The letter outlines work that could be done, including cutting down some small trees (most of which are already dead, according to the letter), installing a drain at the exit from rue des Chalets, level and extend the surface with the use of a small bulldozer, create an adequate base to accept surfacing that is the norm, plant a few trees to create a canopy, install two solar lights and a bench at the half-way point of the approximate 365-metre path length.

The letter asked the municipality to consider its request to make this piece of land available to the community.

In the event that the Knights of Columbus participated in the financing of the project, the letter explains that the group might ask that the name of the group be associated with the project.

Longueuil Councillor Michel Lalonde opened the discussion by saying he was in favour of the project.

But councillors proceeded to ask questions about the proposal.

West Hawkesbury Councillor Gerry Miner asked if Public Works Superintendent James McMahon had any comments.

McMahon pointed out that the municipality had a policy for unopened road allowances (it was included in council’s agenda, following the letter of request).

“This is an unopened road allowance, and is definitely not a walking trail,” said McMahon. Although he acknowledged that others have, in the past, asked for permission to undertake some work on unopened road allowances, it was not in the municipality’s best interest to take on the expenses, liability and additional maintenance of unopened road allowances.

“I just worry that this could open up a can of worms. We could have a lot of demand for this and we don’t have the resources to manage this type of demand,” McMahon said.

Miner pointed out that although he did understand McMahon’s point of view, he understands that during this time, people were doing more walking and spending more time outdoors and that it would be nice if the township could make an effort.

“People can walk on it; but we don’t maintain it. There are no restrictions in place. They can have as much access as they want,” McMahon pointed out. Anyone can make a request (to do limited work or maintenance) on an unopened road allowance, McMahon said, adding that when there are applications, the township considers them. There is a form that people can complete in connection with that type of request, he said.

Vankleek Hill Councillor Peter Barton asked Champlain Township Recreation Director Lisa Burroughs for her comments.

Burroughs pointed out that although unopened road allowances were not her responsibility and the municipality was to get involved, a pedestrian trail could mean benches, signage, a foundation and rules related to users. At the current time, unopened road allowances could be used by tractors, four-wheelers, horses, etc. but Burroughs hinted that a pedestrian trail might not be for multiple users.

Once it is a municipal responsibility, it would have to be maintained to municipal standards, Burroughs pointed out, adding that she agreed with McMahon in that the municipality did not currently have equipment to maintain a trail.

L’Orignal Councillor André Roy described an existing  4.5-kilometre informal trail in the L’Orignal area in Champlain Township that is maintained by volunteers.

While the municipality may not object, investing is another matter, said Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel, mentioning the township’s unopened road allowance policy.

“If they (volunteers) want to keep it up, the permission is there, but not for municipal investment,” Riopel said, suggesting that it could be a small investment by the municipality, including, perhaps the use of some township equipment.

Riopel asked Miner if he was prepared to support the resolution.

Miner replied that a resolution had not been made yet.

Lalonde said he did not think the Chevaliers de Colomb were asking for funds but were rather stating what they were wanting to do. Lalonde implied that every time Vankleek Hill asks for something, the township pays for it, but that for a 365-metre length road, people were putting sticks in their spokes.

Riopel reiterated his opinion that he was not against the idea of giving permission to a group to use the unopened road allowance, if council was okay with it.

Roy interjected that he, too, was not against it, and agreed with giving permission to a group to use it if it was not up to the municipality to maintain it. Roy added that he was not clear from the letter (from Marcel Clément) as to who would do what.

“If it’s a group of volunteers, I have no problem with that,” said Roy.

Longueuil Councillor Violaine Tittley said she had gone to see the site and that there had been lots of support on Facebook for the idea. She said that there was not a big investment being asked from the municipality.

“It would help our citizens and improve their quality of life,” Tittley said.

Lalonde suggested asking the Knights of Columbus some questions to get a better idea and Miner said he would second a resolution to send a letter to the group to get clarity on what was being proposed.

Miner said he had the impression that there were funds available from the Knights of Columbus.

Riopel asked Lalonde if his resolution would be to send a letter to the Knights of Columbus, to discuss it further and negotiate what they want.

Lalonde agreed that was his intent; Council voted unanimously in favour of the motion.

When contacted by The Review after the meeting, Marcel Clément said the group’s initial contact with the mayor and a few councillors was to see to what standard the 365-metre unopened road allowance should be if it were to be a walking trail in order to meet municipal standards.

“I see (from the meeting, posted on Youtube) that the ball is back in our court, but we just want to keep it simple,” said Clément.

The short trail would create a nice walking loop, Clément said, and would be good for the community. And he added that since posting the idea on Facebook, many residents have commented to him that it would be a great idea.

The main work that would improve access for pedestrians include the installation of a culvert, leveling of the trail and the removal of a few smaller, dead trees.

If those items could be done, Clément noted, it would be a great addition to the neighbourhood. He is sure that with some funding support from the Knights of Columbus, and support from the community by way of volunteers, the basics could be done all with the aim of making the short route more passable than it is right now.

“I will wait until the municipality gets in touch with me and we will sit down and negotiate,” Clément said. “We don’t want to make this complicated.”