Merrickville and District Trails Society spearheads new project

·4 min read

A new trail in Merrickville is in the works that will give villagers and visitors alike the opportunity to take in the wildlife of the Rideau River Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The Merrickville and District Trails Society (MDTS) is an independent volunteer society with a mission to develop trails and promote their use in and around Merrickville. In the past, they have worked hard at developing the trails in the municipality, including the Woodland-Toboggan Hill Loop that begins close to Merrickville Public School. In 2019,the MDTS worked with the Merrickville Public Library to create a Story Trail for children along the Woodland-Toboggan Hill Loop, which was used by the Library for programming throughout the summer.

Now that the development of the Woodland-Toboggan Hill Loop is finished, the MDTS has turned their focus towards a route that runs along the water and into the Rideau River Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The rough trail, originally called the Bird Sanctuary Trail, was developed 25 years ago, and runs in a loop through the forest, starting at the west end of the track on the Merrickville Fairgrounds.

Although the path is already there, MDTS member Tim Allen says a lot of work needs to be done so that it is accessible to anyone who wants to use it. They are planning on developing the trail towards the river and installing a viewing platform so that people can take in the beauty of the waterway and the wildlife present in the migratory bird sanctuary. Local wildlife biologist, Stew Hamill, has seen over 40 types of birds in the sanctuary, including the Common Loon, Green Heron, Osprey, and Bald Eagle, as well as other types of wildlife like the River Otter, Muskrat, and Snapping Turtle.

The project, which the MDTS is now calling the Merrickville Riverwalk Trail, also includes a water trail called the Riverwalk Paddle, which will give people with non-motorized watercraft, like canoes and kayaks, the opportunity to explore the migratory bird sanctuary from the water. The trail will start at the Merrickville boat launch, with the possibility of extending it all the way up to Kilmarnock.

“I think we’re aiming to have a basic paddle to be two or three km to go all the way around, and of course, people could do more,” Tim says. “There might be more options to go on more serious paddles which would be up to 10 km.”

The MDTS is looking to work closely with the community to make the Riverwalk Trail something that everyone can enjoy. They have been working with Mary-Kate Laphen at the Merrickville Public Library to collect information that will be used for an information package, as well as interpretive signs along the trail. Tim says this will include information about flora and fauna in the area, but also a bit about its history. The MTDS heard that there used to be small boat houses along the riverbank, and members are looking into it. “Apparently, there were still vestiges back in the 1970s,” Tim says.

The Merrickville Lions Club has also expressed interest in helping the MDTS build the viewing platform at the apex of the trail. “We don’t have all the details yet, and no final agreements, but they’ve been working actively on it, looking at it and seeing what we might do,” Tim says.

As the land that houses the Riverwalk Trail is owned by the municipality, the MDTS has been working closely with the Village to connect with both the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) and Parks Canada to get permission to develop the trail and build the viewing platform. While applications have been made, they are still waiting to hear back from both organizations.

Tim is excited about this project, as it will allow people to actually see out over the river and into the migratory bird sanctuary, something that isn’t accessible right now. “It gives us a safe access, and a responsible sort of access, to the river shore and the bird sanctuary.”

The MDTS is hoping to hear back from the RVCA and Parks Canada this year, so that the project can get underway in the summer. “As soon as we get permissions, we’ll be ready to go,” Tim says. The goal is to do most of the work in 2021, with both the Riverwalk Trail, including the viewing platform, and the River Paddle ready for use in 2022. Any organization or individual who is interested in getting involved can contact Tim at timothy.allen.2@ulaval.ca, or Mary Hegan at mhegan@ripnet.com.

Hilary Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times