The rehabilitation of the Upper Canada Heritage Trail is set to continue, aided by a donation from the Palatine Hills Estate Winery.
The funding is in place to continue, and the work is ready to proceed, as soon as town staff has time.
Part of the first phase, between John and Charlotte Streets, is done, with residents making the most of it. The project is being funded completely through donations collected by a Town committee formed to see the trail preserved and rehabilitated from John Street to York Road, following the historic Erie and Ontario Railroad.
The rehabilitated portion of the trail has been widened to the Town’s three-metre standard, allowing for vehicle access for maintenance, says Tony Chisholm. That has been necessary once already, when a large tree fell across it. The widening will continue, with a fine crushed stone surface to make it more accessible.
The work on the trail is a legacy project going back to local 150th celebrations, and since then, Chisholm has heard a few complaints about the lack of nature trails remaining in town, some concern that the new surface may attract more traffic from visitors, and that the recently-completed work makes it look like “a highway.”
However, he says he has heard from many more residents who are grateful for its increased accessibility.
One of those is Coun. Allan Bisback, who walks the trail from John to Paffard several times a week, and also cycles it regularly to East and West Line, where he says it becomes “unusable and rough for leisure biking.”
Bisback lives on Park Court near the start of the trail at John Street, and volunteered to be part of the Heritage Trail Committee when he became a councillor, wanting to contribute to its rehabilitation.
Before the rehabilitation began, “it was difficult to bike on this section, let alone walk on it without being careful of the uneven surface. After a rain it was unusable and muddy. The Town has cleaned up the dead trees, and installed a great all-purpose surface. The area has lots of birds, deer, the odd coyote, and many skunks, and natural growth is returning.”
Viewing the trail from his back deck, the councillor estimates about a 40 per cent increase in use in the past few months, mostly people walking and biking are enjoying the new surface, but also because “folks want to exercise outside during the current environment,” he suggests.
“And to think all this work was completed through volunteers on a committee, and generous donations. I donated to this phase myself, will do so for future phases, and encourage residents to do the same.”
He’s looking forward to the rehabilitation of the other sections that are in poor condition, he adds.
He’s not alone in his praise. Jane Catcher, also a regular user of the trail, says she used to cycle it occasionally before the recent work was completed, but enjoys the new and improved version more. “I love the trail and find it very comfortable to ride,” she says. The foundation is nice and firm and makes for a good ride without even needing to change gears, Catcher adds. “On my weekly ride to the Brock Monument, I love to come into NOTL and take the Heritage Trail as my reward after a long ride. I feel like I am taking in some history, while enjoying a pleasant ride underneath the canopy of the trees and enjoying the various backyard gardens I can see from the trail — my little bit of heaven,” says Catcher. “From time to time, I meet other people, both cyclers and walkers, and feel the upgraded size and width is perfect, because I never feel crowded as I pass by, saying good morning as I go. I look forward to the continuation of the renovations and will continue to be a trail-blazer who uses this little piece of heaven right in our own backyard, reminding us of the history that once was such an important part of the town.”
Resident David Bell is one who enjoys the trail as a pedestrian, experiencing it with his granddaughter and walking the family dog, picking raspberries in the summer and taking long fall walks with the family. “It is a wonderful trail, and the improvements between Paffard and John are very welcome. I look forward to a better path to East-West in the near future, and ultimately to York Road,” he says.
Ron and Jan Ashenhurst also live on Park Court, backing onto the trail, so “have front-row seats to observe the traffic on the trail since it has been upgraded.”
They say the use of the trail has probably doubled, with “loads of pedestrians, dog-walkers and cyclists. We have seen someone using a walker, and someone in a wheelchair, which would have been inaccessible previously. We also see people on horseback, a couple of ATVs (not good), and even some deer using the trail. It is a huge improvement over the rutted, weed-infested trail that was there before.”
The Ashenhursts say they look forward to what lies ahead, and would like to see tree-planting, ornamental shrubs, and even some wild flowers.
There will be plantings added to the otherwise-finished portion, says Chisholm.
Charles Neufeld and Palatine teamed up months ago with the heritage trail committee on a fundraiser that dedicated 25 per cent of all wine purchased for trail rehabilitation. Despite lower sales during the pandemic, Palatine is donating $550 to the project, says Neufeld, who likes to bike and walk the trail himself.
“I love the trail, and I’d love for the rest of it to be fixed up,” he says.
One of Palatine’s philosophies is “take it outside,” says Neufeld, explaining that wine can be enjoyed in the backyard, or on a picnic — it doesn’t have to be limited to accompanying dinner around the dining room table.
“That makes this project a good fit for us, where outdoor activity is encouraged.”
The work that has been completed so far has cost about $38,000, and with $120,000 collected in donations, there is enough to finish the first of four phases, but the committee will be looking for donations to finish the trail to York Road.
Donations can be sent to The Heritage Trail Committee, c/o of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, PO Box 100, Virgil, ON, L0S 1T0.
Donations of $25 and more will receive a charitable tax receipt.
For more information visit heritagetrail.ca. For information about Palatine Hill Estate Winery, visit palatinehillsestate