The first phase of rehabilitation and improvements to the Upper Canada Heritage Trail has been completed. A group of volunteers, town staff and council members gathered at the Charlotte Street entrance Tuesday to celebrate the reopening of the stretch from Charlotte to East West Line.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero kicked off the proceedings, recognizing the efforts of the volunteer committee as well as town staff for what she termed the “extraordinary work” on the trail completed to date.
Disero acknowledged that there was some concern about the removal of trees along the trail, but a motion brought forth that no healthy trees would be cut down by Coun. Allan Bisback, the town’s representative on the committee, was a gesture of good will to the concerned public.
“This particular area was a very sensitive one,” she said, “and I want to thank the committee for taking the extra time to listen to the concerns of the residents, and hearing them on a number of occasions. I’d like to thank them and the staff for ensuring that the trees that were a concern to those residents were maintained and left in good order.”
Future plans include planting new trees to replace the ash trees and others that were removed, funded by Canopy Growth and the Tree Fund, administered by the town.
The Lord Mayor remains impressed by the great work of the committee in terms of fundraising, and spearheading the initiative to make the trail more accessible.
“Look at the whole committee,” Disero told The Local. “Look at Cheryl Morris and the work she does with the Ambassador program and the Shaw Guild. There’s Fran Boot with Rotary and the Farm Workers. Fred Sentineal with the Equestrian Association. Everyone on the committee has always gone above and beyond to assist in whatever they can through their volunteerism.”
Headed by Rick Meloen and Tony Chisholm, the Heritage Trail Committee formed out of the Canada 150, or Sesquicentennial Committee, of which both were members. Improvements to the Heritage Trail to make it a proper, multi-use recreational trail from the northern part of the town to the southern part in St. Davids, were chosen as a legacy project of the town’s Canada 150 celebrations.
The next item on the agenda is to install a plaque at the John Street entrance to the trail to recognize those who contributed via the successful Trail Blazers fundraising initiative that helped fund the improvements.
“The Trans Canada Trail sold a metre at a time about 20 years ago,” Meloen said. “We thought we could do the same thing, so we encouraged people to give $100. That would enable one metre of the trail to be constructed. We estimated that the entire 10 kilometres would cost about a million dollars, and that’s how we came up with the $100 figure.”
Keeping the momentum going to extend the improvements all the way to York Road is important to Meloen and the others. They will launch another Trail Blazers program for the next phase, most likely after the installation of the John Street plaque some time in August.
MP Tony Baldinelli and MPP Wayne Gates both spoke about the trail’s history as a former rail line that linked Niagara-on-the-Lake to Buffalo. Eventually the trail will connect with the remnants of the rail line at the town’s dock area to draw railroad enthusiasts for an immersive experience.
Chisholm, an avid cyclist whose right leg was sporting a few sores from a wipeout on the exact same trail, spoke highly of the contributors to the Trail Blazer program, as well as the corporate sponsors who stepped up.
“I have to thank, particularly, the people who live in the neighbourhood,” Chisholm said, “and the families that have contributed. Some put in $500, others put in $1,000. That’s what made this trail possible. We owe a lot to them, and will continue to work with them in the future.”
Chisholm recognized Canopy Growth, CN Rail, Zoom Bicycles, NOTL Realty, Bosley Realty, Grape Escapes and Upper Canada Mechanical as a few of the local companies that went out of their way to help out.
Following the ceremony, this NOTL Local reporter had a chance to ride his bicycle from Charlotte Street to East West Line.
Having often trekked through the unfinished version of that stretch, the expansive trail width and smooth pebble surface made the journey much more pleasurable than in the past. As well, there was very little loss, if any, of the forest feel of riding on the trail.
And unlike Chisholm, this reporter did not end up falling off his bicycle.
Chisholm stresses how important it is to connect the Old Town with the villages of Queenston and St. Davids. He also sees an improved Heritage Trail as a much safer cycling route for wine tours alongside Concession 1, on which drivers often exceed the speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour.
In the future, the committee would like to see a second trail connecting along Line 4 to the Niagara River Parkway Recreational Trail, forming a circle route. As well, Chisholm looks forward to that day when the Heritage Trail will connect with the Bruce Trail through an area that is elevated, opening up that final phase from Line 9 through York Road.
“We know it’s going to take years,” Chisholm said. “If we can get it all done in another five years that would be an amazing accomplishment.”
With eight more kilometres of trail left to work on, Meloen wrapped up his comments with a warning.
“We have a ways to go,” Meloen said.
“Are you listening, Wayne and Tony? We’ll be knocking on the doors in Toronto and Ottawa. Well, we have been, and we’ll continue to. I am confident in the success of this endeavour.”