About 400 Almonte residents gathered in the cathedral of Old Almonte Town Hall on Feb. 16 for an open house about Lanark County’s 61-kilometre stretch of the Ottawa Valley Recreation Trail (OVRT), which will run along an abandoned rail line.
The total stretch of the abandoned track runs 296 kilometres long from Smiths Falls to Mattawa.
Hosted by the County of Lanark, the public meeting started at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation from the county, followed by a one-hour question and comment period.
During the presentation, County of Lanark Chief Administrative Officer Kurt Greaves provided some important facts. Split between the County of Renfrew, the Township of Papineau-Cameron and the County of Lanark, the trail cost $500,000. Lanark County paid $96,050 for its portion.
Creating the OVRT will promote active transportation, healthy living and economic growth, according the County of Lanark.
After six years of negotiations, plans for the trail are 90 per cent done, Greaves said, but it will still take 10 years to complete the trail.
Residents have concerns about overall safety on the potential trail. There are concerns about compatibility of trail users. For example, non-motorized vehicle users, like cyclists and hikers might be at danger when motorized vehicles, like all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and snowmobiles, are also on the trail.
“We’re trying to see if the trail space is wide enough to incorporate both,” Greaves said.
Carleton Place is looking into the possibility of parallel trails as well. The trail is about 27 metres wide in some places. That’s about two times as wide as one lane of traffic in each direction on Highway 7.
“I want this to be a trail that’s open to our kids and grandkids,” one man said.
Some property owners who have farms along the proposed trail path have concerns that dogs will chase cattle and that trespassers might be injured if they decide to venture onto farmland where there is the potential to be injured by large livestock like horses.
“Who would be responsible if someone came onto my farmland and was kicked by one of my horses?” one woman asked.
“We want adjacent landowners to be here and give us your thoughts,” Greaves said. “We want to be a good neighbour.”
One person at the meeting raised concerns about people drinking and driving ATVs. If someone gets hurt, could an ambulance even get out there? Who would be responsible? How would anyone know this person is hurt on the trail?
“Nothing is cut in stone at the moment,” Greaves said, adding that there is no timeline as to when the trail is opening. “We still don’t know who would be using the trail.”
Greaves hears a lot of concerns that are perceived issues. People feel angst about a trail that has not even happened yet, he said.
Keeping the trail in the public realm means it could still be reverted back into a train track for a future light rail, VIA passenger trains or freight train service since the County of Renfrew, the Township of Papineau-Cameron and the County of Lanark officially own the land that was once the railway. “We want to keep our options open – we own the trail,” Greaves told the crowd.
Mayor Bob Sweet of the County of Petawawa was also at the meeting. He has been involved in trail conversation since Canadian Pacific announced its discontinuation of the 296-kilometre rail line in 2010.
Sweet says 74 per cent of responses to the trail in the County of Renfrew have been positive. This is huge for tourism in Almonte and surrounding towns like Carleton Place and Perth because it will connect them to Ottawa, he said.
“Please send us your comments. We’ll be taking them into account as we create our management plan,” Greaves said. The management plan will be a living document, meaning changes can be made to it as things come up in the future.
The Almonte public meeting was the largest so far after hosting similar open houses in Montague, Beckwith and Carleton Place already.
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