KAWARTHA LAKES – Available routes for ATV and other off-road vehicle enthusiasts could be expanding this season.
Recently, the provincial government passed Bill 107, a provincial regulation that will permit off-road vehicles, ORV, use on all road networks under municipal jurisdiction, unless the municipality itself restricts access.
After this was announced, the City of Kawartha Lakes decided to develop an Off-Road Vehicle Task Force in hopes of creating more opportunities for those who want to enjoy the trails that the city has to offer.
According to Ward five Councillor, Pat Dunn who is the chairman of the newly developed task force, the desire for having access to more of the Victoria Rail Trail, VRT, has been a request for many years.
“Historically, people have wanted to be able to connect the north trail of VRT and the south side,” he said. “Both ends come into Lindsay and there has always been a want, to connect the two trails to find a way from the north side of the rail to the south side.”
According to an independent economic impact study completed by Smith Gunther Associates Ltd., on behalf of the Canadian Off-Highway Vehicle Distributors Council (COHV) in 2015 Ontario residents spent $974 million on activities directly involving the operation of All-terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) also known as side by sides.
“This report confirms what we already know, that off-road riding contributes significantly to Ontario’s economic well-being,” stated Dave Baker of the Ontario Federation of All-Terrain Vehicles (OFATV).
The OFATV is a group of ATV clubs in Ontario operated by volunteers, with the goal of proving safe, legal and sustainable trails across the province. Here’s a link to the full study:https://ofatv.org/economic-impacts-of-atv-study/
The terms for the City of Kawartha Lakes Task Force were developed by the end of 2020. The Task Force will consult with the public and provide recommendations back to Council by the end of March 2021. This timeline is targeted to allow for recommendations to be implemented for the start of the season in May 2021.
“We want to find linkage between the two trails, I tried to do this in 2012, so it’s not new for me, I believe in it, that somebody should be able to go from Bethany to Fenelon falls if they want,” said Dunn. “They’re not hurting anybody, why would I say no, this is public infrastructure, and we have to learn how to share.”
Dunn noted that Victoria Rail Trail runs from Bethany right up to Haliburton, stretching across approximately 120 kilometres.
He also added that currently, ATVs cannot use the VRT until they reach Thunderbidge Road, located at the north end of Lindsay. The task force is looking into ways to get riders from Logie Street to Thunderbridge road.
“The disadvantage is that people use it for walking and cycling, and those groups feel they may be at odds,” said Dunn. “With ATVs, some don’t want them there because they don’t like them and they’re afraid of them.”
And while various options will be analyzed by the Task Force, Dunn noted that Fenelon Falls has been an example for the last 13 years that these changes can be made successfully.
Since 2007, off-road enthusiasts have had open opportunities to ride on the trail right through Fenelon Falls. According to Dunn, the pathway leads those on off-road vehicles through town, as well as through a busy beach area without any problems.
“I’m sure some people don’t like it but what I’m saying is it works for the vast majority of people,” he said.
Dunn noted that many express concerns of being harmed by ATVs as an argument to keep the available trails as is but, in 13 years, this has never happened, he said.
“History shows us that this is not a likely scenario,” he said. “There is probably a lot not thrilled but they found commendations that worked for the majority of the people, it works, and it has for 13 years.”
According to Carolyn Richards, President of the Kawartha ATV Association and the Kawartha Off-Road Motorcycle Association, and Vice-Chair of the Task Force, the City of Kawartha Lakes has one of the most beautiful multi-use trail systems southern Ontario has to offer.
“My ultimate goal is to connect rural communities to the trail system as well as create connectivity between trails,” she said. “I joined as I’ve spent many years advocating for road access to off-road vehicles in our community. My goal is to create safe and legal riding opportunities for ATV and side by side riders within our communities and to promote tourism to the City of Kawartha Lakes.”
Richards noted that the VRT is the backbone of the Kawartha Lakes trails and she believes connecting the north and the south trails is vital.
“Creating legal connections between the north and south trail will take pressure off of some areas where ATVs have no place to go outside of the smaller communities and allow them to legally and safely travel to the larger trail systems at the north and south end of the municipality,” she said. “Ultimately, this will reduce conflict in the communities.”
According to Richards, the ATV community within Kawartha Lakes and in neighbouring communities have been requesting this change for over 10 years.
“As the sport grows so does the support we receive from residents and members to open more roads allowing residents to ride from their home to the trails safely and legally, as well as to connect the trails systems for both residents and visitors,” said Richards. “ATVing has not only grown rapidly over the last 10 years but it has also evolved from a male-dominated sport to a family recreational activity.”
Changes in road and trail allowance will create more opportunities for riders to travel further distances to explore the trail systems the region has to offer. Businesses will also potentially benefit as riders will be likely to spend money on food, gas and equipment while also visiting local retail stores, she added.
“More and more families, including retirees have purchased ATVs and side by sides because it’s something they can enjoy together. People are also moving to our communities to enjoy the beautiful resources we have to offer, including the trails,” she explained. “It’s important to find ways to safely manage the growth and demand, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a task force. Riders just want to get to the trails, and they want to do it safely and legally.”
For more information visit https://jumpinkawarthalakes.ca/ORV. Kawartha411 will do a follow-up story once a decision is made.
The story has been updated as the task force is looking into ways to enable riders to travel from Logie Street to Thunderbridge Road.