KAWARTHA LAKES-Councillors in The City of Kawartha Lakes voted to remove a plan to close part of the Victoria Rail Trail to motorized traffic from a motion coming to council in a few weeks.
In September 2022 then Councillor Elmslie brought forward a motion to restrict the use of ATVs on the trail through his constituency during the summer months. It was seconded by Councillor Veale. The plan suggested restricting the use of ATVs from Garnet Graham Park to Northline Road and directing motorized use to the on-road by-pass along KL 121 during the summer months after some complaints from residents bordering the trail.
It was seconded by Councillor Veale. That suggestion was put into the Master Plan Update and was up for debate today at Committee of the Whole.
The inaugural Trails Master Plan for Kawartha Lakes was completed in 2006. Almost 15 years have past and an update to the original plan is needed to address current concerns and standards. A Community Working Group was comprised of representation from Council, Kawartha Lakes Parks Advisory Committee, Kawartha Trans Canada Trail Association, Green Trails Alliance, Kawartha Lakes Snowmobile Club, and Kawartha ATV Association and began looking into updates in 2020.
A number of people spoke in favour of restricting ATV’s and many also spoke in favour of keeping the trail open to all.
Lynn Reed, a lifelong summer resident with a cottage on the trail wrote:
Noise, speed and pollution have a huge impact on our quality of life. On typical a summer weekend, I have over 200 vehicles passing within 50 feet of my door. Speeds are excessive noise is constant. Fumes and dust are everywhere. My weekends are spent with the doors and windows closed because the noise and pollution are unbearable. The bylaws that are in place are not being enforced. The last time I engaged with a rider and I was verbally abused. We really need change, the current system does not work. I ask that all motorized vehicles be removed from this residential section of the trail.”
Judy Steed also has a cottage on the trail and is a retired journalist. She said she researched ATV accidents.
“I did some research and I was shocked at the number of accidents that popped up. October 2022 ATV crash kills 8-year-old boy, 45-year-old driver charged with dangerous driving causing death and impaired driving, ATV crash near Hamilton, two kids aged 8 and 6 were killed. In January 2023 in Haliburton, an ATV collision killed a rider. I won’t go on and on”
Local business owner and volunteer firefighter Rob Jardine spoke in favour of keeping the trail open. He and his family use the trails and are members of the Kawartha ATV Association.
“The trail provides fun for all and a sense of community,” Jardine explained. “I want to bring clarity to the number of ATV accidents along this section of the trail. As a volunteer firefighter in Fenelon Falls for the last 15 years, there have been no accidents or fatalities thankfully. I would like to make that clear so council can make an informed decision. The accidents that have been mentioned today the majority of them are happening on private property. It;\’s time we all get along and make Kawartha Lakes and more specifically Fenelon Falls a hub of tourism.”
The Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favour of keeping the trail open and said 80% of its members agreed.
“If a portion of the rail trail is closed to ATV or motorized traffic Fenelon Falls may no longer be a choice destination along the trial and that will negatively impact the business community and tourism economy.: said Merilee Boston. “Keep in mind this is a community asset.”
The Kawartha Lakes Snowmobile Club pointed out that it maintains and grooms much of the trail.
“I have been grooming and working on this trail to keep it open to all users for 20 years now. People always stop and thank us for grooming the trails because if we weren’t grooming them they wouldn’t be using them.”
Fenelon Falls councillor Mike Perry brought forth the motion to remove the proposed closure from the updated plan saying he has spent the last six months listening and learning.
“During the campaign(municipal election) I said I was Ok with a bypass along the Northline Road as long as it was safe and accessible” Perry explained. “I have very much learned and listened to our local firefighters and the residents who live along Northline Road who are also ATVers that Northtline Road is not safe it’s not a safe option at 50 km an hour and there are no shoulders, nor is putting traffic along 121 acceptable. I’ve reviewed reports and studies, I’ve done my homework, and I’ve even hosted the parties in my home. Safety is a serious consideration. I am not aware of any accidents or injuries in 15 years the trail has been open.”
Perry has formed an informal working group to work with area residents to address their concerns about noise and walking on the trail while keeping the trail open for all to enjoy.
“Yes there is noise and I know and I feel for the people who are very bothered by it. Extremely bothered and I hear that and we have to do something about it. We don’t have to choose between motorized and active transportation. Why choose when we can have both? I would like to begin today to best realize the report’s conclusion that the trails in Kawartha Lakes means trails for everyone. We can do this together we can co-develop something wonderful and great for everyone on both sides of this, so let’s get started together.”
A number of councillors spoke in agreement with Perry’s comments.
Mayor Elmslie says he does not regret bringing the motion to close the trail when he was a councillor for Fenelon Falls.
“I’m not sorry I brought this forward, I think it would have been disingenuous of me particularly before the election to let this go forward and not say anything and at this juncture to bring it up,” Elmslie said. “I think some people have been maligned. There are many people, probably not as many who showed up today or who have been as vocal or sent in letters or signed petitions but there have been people who reached out to me when I was a councillor who expressed concern and horror quite frankly about what they are facing. I see the mood around the council table and I see where this vote is headed. If this dialogue comes out to make this section of the trail safer for everyone. I stand by it and I will take my lumps for it. I still have grave concerns for those folks who live along the rail trail”
Elmslie said that going forward council will have to find a way to make the trail safer for all.
The Trails Master Plan Update provides guidance for trails in Kawartha Lakes not just for the context of today, but also for well into the future. It is recognized that conditions change, and Kawartha Lakes will be met with new considerations, constraints, and opportunities over the 20-year horizon of this plan, that may not be predictable at this time. The TMPU recommendations are adaptable and responsive to changing conditions
The Trails Master Plan Update – Final Report contains six recommendation categories:
- Trail Infrastructure
- Trail Design
- Trail Education and Outreach
- Implementation and Management
- Trail Costing and Funding
- Maintenance and Enforcement
This category identifies four (4) types of trail projects – Trail Improvement, Trail Management, Trail Comfort, and Trail Links. As well, eleven (11) trail improvement focus areas throughout the municipality. A total of 59 projects, impacting over 78 kilometers of trail, have been established. This series of proposed trail areas and associated projects, if approved, will have an impact on the capital planning and special projects in future Parks and Recreation budget requests. The overarching recommendations for this category are listed below.
This category refers to the consistent application of guidelines and standards to support the look and feel of various trail elements such as trail corridor classifications, signage and wayfinding, amenities, crossings, trailheads, and trail barrier features such as bridges. These guidelines and standards have been developed and recommended to guide design decision making and to ensure consistency throughout the municipality. They are meant to ensure Kawartha Lakes is utilizing best practices for creating and managing safe, enjoyable, accessible, and sustainable trail experiences. The overarching recommendations for this category are listed below.
Trail Education and Outreach
This category refers to the strategies, tactics, and programming that are designed and implemented with the intent of influencing the behaviours of those who live, work, and play within Kawartha Lakes. The intent is to more effectively communicate trail information, encourage participation and strike enthusiasm and interest in achieving and increasing recreational mobility. The overarching recommendations for this category are listed below.
Implementation and Management
This category refers to the various tools and tactics that are designed specifically for Kawartha Lakes to support staff and its partners with the day-to-day coordination of trail related projects, recommendations, and initiatives. It guides the process and practices through appropriate capacity building and clear communication and coordination. The overarching recommendations for this category are listed below.
The Update without the trail closure will go to council on April 18.