47 kilometres of new trails are planned for Essex County on a former rail line

The multi-use loop trail system will run through the region, connecting the Chatham-Kent trails, Leamington's Greenway, the Chrysler Greenway, the Cypher Systems Group Greenway and the Herb Gray Parkway trails.  (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
The multi-use loop trail system will run through the region, connecting the Chatham-Kent trails, Leamington's Greenway, the Chrysler Greenway, the Cypher Systems Group Greenway and the Herb Gray Parkway trails. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

It's been about 15 years since a train has run along the old Canada Southern Railway line that stretches 47 kilometres through Essex County, and seven years since the tracks were removed.

Now, thanks to the work of the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) along with several municipalities, it's the tentative site of a new trail system.

ERCA, Essex County, Tecumseh, Essex and Lakeshore partnered together to protect the railway for public use, with funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"This investment will enhance the quality of life in our region for generations to come," said Essex County warden Hilda MacDonald in a press release.

With the tracks long gone, the area has returned to nature and ERCA said it is now a unique habitat that goes through meadows, wetlands, forest and thickets, providing a "unique habitat" for some endangered species.

Essex Region Conservation Authority
Essex Region Conservation Authority

The path of the old tracks ran through "all major watercourses" that lead into Lake St. Clair, according to a press release from ERCA, and conservation work in the area could be important for mitigating floods.

"We are so grateful for this partnership which protected this corridor for its habitat and hazard mitigation value, and for future public use," said ERCA's chairperson, Tania Jobin.

Tim Byrne, chief administrative officer and secretary-treasurer with the ERCA, said the new system will give residents a chance to really enjoy the nature in their backyard.

"All of the major waterways that are crossed have valley components to them — very shallow — but those valley components also contain significant wooded features," he said.

"There are both remnant wooded features and woodlots that this rail corridor passes through for people to observe flora and fauna in this region."

Byrne said with the land unused for so long, some work needs to be done to set clear markers for the boundaries of the land, so trail users won't encroach on private land and vice versa.

It will take five to 10 years to get all the work done, Byrne said, and the cost is still unknown.

"We really don't have a number budgeted for it at this point in time," he said, because "some of those details still aren't finalized." Obtaining the property, he said, was the biggest step.

"Now we can undertake that other review investigation and ultimately design, and then come back with what we're looking at and have a budgetary number to consider."

According to ERCA, abandoned railway corridors are important areas to protect because they provide "the only habitat linkage between existing fragmented forests and wetlands."

The conservation authority said the abandoned railway connects 21 separate natural areas through the region.

ERCA said once the trail is funded and built, it will finally create a multi-use loop trail through the region, connecting the Chatham-Kent trails, Leamington's Greenway, the Chrysler Greenway, the Cypher Systems Group Greenway and the Herb Gray Parkway trails.

Lakeshore mayor Tracey Bailey said the trail system is "an investment in mobility and the future of our communities, in greenspace and natural habitats, and in the health and wellness of our residents."