An agreement in principal between VIA Rail Canada and the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail Corporation (PRRTC), where the corporation will acquire the trail’s existing infrastructure, could be the beginning of a new era of tourism and growth for the trail say representatives from the PRRTC and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR).

Michel Villeneuve, a director with the trail corporation, said the non-profit group will be able to apply for grants from government and private organizations that were not available to the UCPR, as well as work with sponsors and other organizations to both maintain and develop the trail.

“There are all kinds of places where you can apply and get some money,” Villeneuve observed, citing numerous government grants for tourism projects, as well as private funding available.

He noted that private sponsorship for sections of the trail, or the entire length, could also be used to provide funds.

“The name of the trail could be from a sponsor and they would provide funding for that,” Villeneuve explained, adding that private companies could also help provide benches, pavilions and other facilities for the trail.

“The trail belongs to the residents of Prescott-Russell. A lot of companies benefit from people spending at their place so it’s a way to give back to the community.”

UCPR Warden Stephane Sarrazin, who is also the mayor of Alfred-Plantagenet, agrees that funding will be more readily available to the non-profit trail corporation that it would be to the municipality or to VIA.

“For them it will be easier in the future to go and get grants from different organizations, because they are a non-profit organization,” Sarrazin said, noting that ownership of the land also will allow the trail corporation to seek investment in the property. “The fact that they would own the land means they can invest some money.”

On November 9, VIA Rail Canada (VIA Rail) and the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail Corporation announced an agreement in principle where the corporation will acquire the Trail’s existing infrastructure on land that has previously been owned by VIA, the federal crown corporation responsible for passenger rail service. The agreement is expected to be finalized by December 1.

“It’s a big step,” Villeneuve admitted.

While forecasts on the costs of maintaining the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail over the next 20 years have been high, Villeneuve said that expenses will be reduced by the trail no longer having to be maintained to railway standards.

“A bridge for having bicycles to go over and a bridge for a train are two totally different things,” he explained.

The UCPR will also continue to provide some maintenance services on the trail, as well as funding. Following the announcement of the agreement in principle between VIA Rail Canada and the PRRTC, the UCPR confirmed, at the Warden’s Banquet, its intention to continue supporting the trail. During the event held last Saturday evening, November 20, Sarrazin confirmed a financial support of $540,000 over a 10-year period to the PRRTC. More specifically, the funding provided by the UCPR will amount to $70,000 annually for the first two years and $50,000 for each of the following eight years.

The trail corporation will also work with other groups in Prescott-Russell, including the Eastern Ontario Snowmobile Association, which uses portions of the trail in the winter months.

Further announcements on plans for the future of the trail, funding, and the finalization of the transfer of land from VIA to the trail corporation are expected in the next few weeks.

The 72-kilometre trail at St-Eugene crosses the towns and villages of East Hawkesbury, Champlain, The Nation, Alfred and Plantagenet, and Clarence-Rockland. It also connects with Rigaud, and Ottawa.