The Niagara-on-the-Lake community has been so supportive of the Heritage Trail, there was not enough room on the plaque unveiled last Wednesday to recognize all the donors.
There are more than 100 trailblazers listed on the plaque that greets people as they begin their walk, jog or bike ride at the John Street entrance, but there are at least two more plaques planned, those gathered at a small unveiling ceremony were told.
While officials and trail committee members waited to unveil the plaque mounted on armour stone, cyclists, parents and grandparents with children and dogs were making use of the newly refinished recreational path, made possible by donations from a very generous community.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero called the occasion to thank trailblazers and donors “exciting, but a long time coming.”
She praised and thanked heritage trail volunteers and staff, led by town operations manager Kevin Turcotte, for the vision and hard work it took to see the completion of the first phase of the project.
MP Tony Baldinelli told the small crowd it was “a pleasure for me to be here, for many reasons,” drawing a laugh, as he mentioned his recent re-election.
“We’re here to celebrate community, its impact on raising funds, and importance to the trail, going back to its beginning.”
But it’s just the first phase,” and we have more work to be done as we go through to Queenston and York Road.”
MPP Wayne Gates also thanked those who donated, stressing the trail’s heritage significance, and its importance “to the overall health of the community.”
However, he added, “this is wonderful, but guess what they’re short of. They’re short of money.”
He told the crowd that to celebrate Baldinelli’s election win, “I thought I should wear my blue socks,” and he did.
“Our offices already work close together,” he said of the federal MP, and suggested together, as elected officials, they should be doing everything they can to get the funds needed to finish the trail.
“If we make sure the people in Queen’s Park and in Ottawa know how important this is to the overall health of the community, I think we can do that. I’m saying today I think we can make this happen.”
Gates said the trail is important to the town’s heritage, “and we don’t want to lose it to development.”
To the applause of those gathered to hear his promise, he committed to working with all levels of government to get the project finished.
“If money is a stumbling block, we can do it together.”
“You can’t always go to the community,” he added. “Politicians have a role to play here too.”
Regional Coun. Gary Zelepa walked along the trail to the meeting, and said he used to walk it when he was a teenager. “It’s changed a lot, for the better,” he said, offering to work with the region and other levels of government for more resources for the completion of the project.
Coun. Allan Bisback, a member of the trail committee and also chair of the town’s budget committee, said he was pleased to hear support for funding for the remainder of the work, fulfilling the vision of going all the way to St. Davids, and promising to get there.
“In 2017,” said committee chair Rick Meloen, “I wasn’t sure what kind of interest or support this project would generate.” The response, he said, was “overwhelming.”
The idea of keeping the railroad alive is very important to him, he added, and became even more so when he had some health problems this summer, and was advised by his doctor to start walking every day.
With that thought in mind, “the trails in town took on a different significance. I understood better the value of having a venue like this for the residents of the town. This is another trail, another venue for more people to have more opportunities to get out more and exercise more, and I don’t have anything more to say,” he ended with a laugh.
Tony Chisholm, vice-chair of the committee, said there are about 130 donors who need to be thanked and there will be a second plaque at the Charlotte Street entrance. The fact that the work was completed “with local people’s money, is really pretty significant.”
A third one will recognize corporate donors, he added.
The committee is about to begin working on the cost of the next phase of the trail, but so far, the cost has been about $100 a metre, and that’s likely to be the case for future work, Chisholm said. About $100,000 to $120,000 was raised through donations, as well as a generous gift of $40,000 from Canopy Growth.