A fundraising campaign for the second of four phases of plans to rehabilitate and improve Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Upper Canada Heritage Trail kicks off Saturday, Sept. 24 with a fun run and dog walk.
Heritage Trail Committee chair Rick Meloen and vice-chair Tony Chisholm haven’t yet set a financial goal for the event, as it’s the first time they have organized such a fundraiser.
“We don’t really know what to expect,” Meloen says. “This is a whole new experience. If it works out well, this could be an annual thing.”
The pair had a tent and table set up at Saturday’s Niagara Polo games to promote the run and to increase awareness about the trail itself. Numerous polo fans dropped by to find out more.
“I met a couple of people I know who said they would be there (for the run),” said Meloen. “There’s been a tremendous amount of positive comments about the trail.”
Phase one of the improvements were completed and celebrated last year with a ribbon-cutting and the unveiling of a plaque recognizing contributors to the previous fundraising campaign.
The 10-kilometre trail follows the footprint of an abandoned railroad right-of-way winding from the Dock Area south from the Old Town to King and John Streets and running parallel to Concession 1 Road, ending at York Road. There, it connects with the Bruce Trail.
Phase one involved the removal of some trees and underbrush along two stretches of the trail, between John Street through to Charlotte, and from Charlotte out to East West and Line. Many of those trees were replaced with new plantings, and improvements were made to the trail surface, making it accessible for all activities, including walking, running, biking, and horseback riding.
Between 2019 and 2021, $100,000 was raised, most of that via local residents, dubbed “trail blazers”, who each sponsored one metre of trail for $100. Other contributors included the Wise Guys Charity Fund, Canopy Growth and Canadian National Railroad
Phase two of the trail improvements covers the length from East and West Line to Line 3. The third phase will focus on the stretch from Line 3 to Line 9, while phase four will involve improvements from Line 9 to York Road.
The trail has been difficult in recent years for many accustomed to using it. Erosion and washout between Line 9 and York Road have made that stretch difficult to traverse. Vegetation and long grass have been growing on the 66-foot-wide (three metres) corridor, resulting in a loss of the trail’s visibility in both a physical sense and in the overall consciousness of the town.
Identifying the trail from John and King Streets all the way back to the Dock Area in the Old Town is also a priority. That project may be undertaken following the completion of the fourth phase.
“Train aficionados would be able to follow the train path all the way from the dock,” said Meloen. “It would make it more of a destination for those people. We want to celebrate the heritage of the train in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Both committee members see the trail as a great way to provide a route for runners, walkers and bikers that allows them to pursue their activities away from traffic. And that is part of the beauty of the upcoming fundraiser, as it actually is taking place on the Heritage Trail.
“We are starting at Memorial Park, so it incorporates part of the trail on Parks Canada land,” explained Meloen.
“We’re off the road,” Chisholm added. “People won’t have to worry about running alongside the road or along sidewalks. It’s all on the trail, it’s all easy on your feet, and it’s all dog-friendly.”
The routes for the five-km run and the two-km dog walk will diverge at one point, in an effort to ensure that the dogs don’t interfere with the runners.
“A lot of people in town have dogs, and we wanted to include them in this,” said Chisholm. “They might not want to run or walk the whole trail. There’s a great social aspect of walking 50 dogs all at once. It should be a fun, interesting experience.”
Cost to participate as a runner or dog walker is $45 with pre-registration at heritagetrail.ca until Sept 21. After that, registration can be completed at Memorial Park the day of the event, but the cost increases to $60.
Each registrant receives a backpack, water bottle, medal, refreshments and other items for participating. Other prizes will be awarded for the top runners and for the top donation totals.
Numbers will be limited to 150 runners and 50 dog walkers. Runners are asked to check in between 7 and 7:30 a.m., with the run starting at 8 a.m. Dog walkers will check in between 8 and 8:30 a.m., with a 9 a.m. start time.
“We hope to raise enough money with this event to at least start the work,” Chisholm said. “The bill for this phase is going to be a big one.”