Keep motorized vehicles off Algonquin Trail: residents
Sean Chase/Daily Observer Terry Ritz stands on the proposed Algonquin Trail and points out how close the decommissioned rail bed is to his property on Burns Drive in Laurentian Valley. Ritz and other homeowners in three neighbourhoods along a 2.7-kilometre stretch of the trail want to see motorized traffic prohibited.
LAURENTIAN VALLEY – While plans are underway to develop the former Canadian Pacific Railway into the Algonquin Trail, homeowners along one stretch of the proposed multi-use network have grave concerns.
The trail is receiving push back from residents in the area of Burns Drive, Mountainview Drive and Heritage Place. They believe it should not open for All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and snowmobiles considering the trail close proximity to properties and residential housing.
Renfrew County has partnered with Lanark County and Papineau-Cameron Township, the 296-kilometre Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail corridor stretches from Smiths Falls to Mattawa. The Algonquin Trail, which is the Renfrew County portion, runs for 2.7 kilometres past 61 dwellings in the Burns Drive, Mountainview Drive and Heritage Place. Terry Ritz, who owns a home about 60 feet from the trail, says it makes no sense to mix motorize with walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers and skiers.
“How many skiers are going to be out where there are snowmobilers and ATVs,” said Ritz. “It's a pipe dream.”
This past July, Renfrew County council has passed a resolution recommending that the 219-kilometre Algonquin Trail section be designated for multi-use. As defined by the Ontario Off-Road Vehicles Act, multi-use includes all methods of self-propelled transportation, as well as horseback riding, snowmobiles, ATVs and side-by-sides. The motion includes a provision that the County would consider bypass/twinning alternatives presented by local municipalities that are prepared to support and fund them.
Ritz and others homeowners here feel the motorized traffic should be contained to the decommissioned Canadian National (CN) trail diverting out of town and away from residential areas. However, he feels the ratepayers of Laurentian Valley should not have to pay for any bypass. Homeowners also have concerns about policing the trail and preventing trespassing noting the Ontario Provincial Police will not resound to trespassers on county property.
“Leaving Smiths Falls, this is the first contact with the Ottawa Rver for the proposed trail,” added Duane MacDougall, who also owns a home on Burns Drive. “Private properties are already being invaded by trespassers from the rail bed. A trail changes private lands to public access which leads to trespassing and parking issues. No quarantees can ever be given to protect 'locals' because it is impossile to police such a feature as a motorized trail with all the dynamic characteristics that it has.”
MacDougall and other concerned citizens conducted a community survey of 118 residents along the stretch with 84 per cent of surveys being answered. It showed that 97.5 per cent of those surveyed called for non-motorized use of the rail bed. In addition to attending open houses, they have also made delegations to Laurentian Valley council and the Algonquin Trail Advisory Committee, however, MacDougall feels they have not been heard.
“The county has not consulted residents of the county or along the rail line,” he added.
Real estate agents have informed many homeowners that their property values will decline up to 15 per cent, Ritz noted. Homeowners also want a detailed environmental assessment and soil testing done at the site with those results being revealled to the public. He recounted that when a drainage ditch was dug beside the railbed this past spring to alleviate flooding he noticed oil slicks. Residents contend there are just too many unknowns to proceed with a trail at this time.
“To me this is public mischief going ahead and doing this even though we have concerns,” Ritz says.
Homeowners feel there will be safety issues as well with five crossings of the current line between Burns Drive and Pembroke Street East. MacDougall pointed out two accidents have already occurred in the vicinity of his home involving snowmobilers.
“One struck a berm at high speed, while the other was a rollover,” he said. “These machines were going by at 3 a.m.”
The topography of the location is also not suitable for motorized trail traffic, MacDougall contended. Their properties are nestled below the trail's 40-foot embankment that directs all noises, smells, fuel pollution and ATV track dust. The survey found that 95 per cent of residential bedrooms along that stretch face the proposed trail.
MacDougall explained that other communities in Ontario, such as Grand Bend, Owen Sound and Kincardine, have avoided residential areas when it comes to designating motorized portions of their trails. He suggested discontinuing the trail at the Interprovincial bridge going west and go east to the CN line and sell the rail lands to the west to local homeowners using the profits to develop the remainder of the trail in rural areas where it should be built.