A quartet of groups will be working together to solve a recreational trails dispute along the Thousand Islands Parkway.
The St. Lawrence Parks Commission (SLPC), along with Front of Yonge and the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, will be coordinating their approach for the multi-use recreational trails along the parkway, they announced Tuesday.
The coordination will be done with the assistance of the Ontario Trails Council (OTC) to resolve challenges with plowing of the pathways in the wintertime.
In a statement, the group says it is its goal to identify a solution for the 2021-22 winter season that "allows for the safe use of the trail and better user experience for all users."
"The SLPC has heard the concerns raised by local community members regarding the conditions along the Thousand Islands Parkway multi-use recreational trail during the winter months," said former Senator Bob Runciman, the commission's chairman.
"The SLPC supports and recognizes that a collaborative working group… is key to reaching a unified resolution that allows users to continue to safely enjoy the trail."
The reason for coordination stems from a winter that saw complaints regarding both the maintenance, and then lack of maintenance, of the trails.
The two townships faced a disagreement on how the trails should look in the winter.
Residents of Leeds and the Thousand Islands had complained about mounds of snow being created following plowing along the trail. An SLPC policy forbids citizens to plow sections of the trails; the commission began enforcing the policy in February.
This in turn led to complaints from residents from Front of Yonge, who said the maintained section, a two-kilometre stretch, allowed them to walk on the trail and avoid the roads.
"I knew it was going to be a problem; there's a lot of people that walk that plowed portion," said Front of Yonge Mayor Roger Haley.
Haley said this was not the first year the trails had been privately plowed, as the maintenance dates back a few years, and he was surprised this was the year enforcement began.
"Especially now during COVID(-19), where people are getting out more to social distance," added Haley.
In the release, Leeds and the Thousand Islands Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke concurred on the importance of having access to the trail system.
"We witnessed a huge increase in use of our trails as the pandemic kept us distanced, and pushed us to reconnect with the outdoors," said Smith-Gatcke.
"Never has it been more important for us to support maintenance and upkeep of trails for residents and visitors to enjoy the beauty of our area."
Members of council from both townships and the commission met together several times and brought in the OTC. Both Runciman and Haley said the group was impressed by the presentation made by the OTC.
"They did a great presentation… convinced all the parties that it's a good idea to come to some sort of arrangement," said Haley.
The arrangement will come in the form of a committee. Runciman said it is still in the early days of formation, but the committee will include members from all four groups.
"Through these committees we can resolve landowner, maintenance, signage and other use or operational issues so that both local residents and trail tourists are well served by trails," said Patrick Connor, CEO of the OTC, in the statement.
Runciman said the hope is to have the committee in place as soon as possible, with a plan that is in place for next winter.
Marshall Healey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times