P.E.I. trail tourism pitch waiting in government limbo, project manager says

·3 min read

Ultimately, Frank MacEachern is hopeful his pitch for trail town tourism on P.E.I. is given the go-ahead.

"It's just a matter of getting that final commitment and some budget attached to it."

As it stands, the report he submitted to government late last year is in limbo. The tourism model would see Island communities that are already connected via existing routes be recognized as trail towns and marketed to attract adventure tourists, such as cyclists.

MacEachern's report focuses on Kings County, where much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place – namely the Confederation Trail. He expects the project to cost the province about $200,000 to $300,000 a year, and the rest could come from existing sources such as rural development and active transportation funds, he said.

Funding for the P.E.I. Trail Town project would go toward hiring some staff to co-ordinate the project, ensuring communities meet a set standard when it comes to public amenities like washrooms and charging stations and mapping and marketing what they have to offer.

"We want to be able to help existing businesses grow."

P.E.I. already has a headstart on promotion as the Confederation Trail will be included in an upcoming book on the world's top 100 cycling treks. Ride: Cycle the World will be available this April, and the international series that it's a part of has sold over 50 million books since the 1990s.

"You're talking probably millions of dollars of free publicity for the Confederation Trails," MacEachern said.

Don Cormier, vice-president of operations with Northumberland Ferries Limited (NFL), is all for a project like this as it would profile P.E.I.

"It's certainly a worthwhile initiative," he said. "We hope to learn more about it and to support it when we can."

NFL was one of many groups and individuals MacEachern met with while researching and promoting the idea of this project. Others include municipal councils and provincial MLAs.

If the project is approved, Cormier hopes NFL's ferries could play a role in promoting Island communities and their businesses because – just as MacEachern believes is the goal of the initiative – it could equally benefit NFL, he said.

"What's good for Island tourism is good for Island ferries."

Cynthia King, owner of P.E.I. Cycling Tours and Adventures, notes the Confederation Trail has more potential than it's currently being used for.

"I think it's one of our best assets," she said. "It's so well maintained. (And) the province does a great job with the signage."

One downside she has noticed is it doesn't have many connections to the shoreline. She'll often recommend which routes her clients should take to get there and to other community attractions, which can include a mix of trail and road, but having more consistent mapping and public amenities across the region would be a plus, she said.

King hasn't seen MacEachern's final report yet but believes the project's core principles could be good for her business as well as both tourists and locals, especially as a result of COVID-19.

"There are more Islanders on bikes than ever before," she said.

MacEachern is ready to kick the project into gear as soon as he can, but he still hasn't heard anything official as of the province's 2021-22 budget announcement on March 12. He's hopeful the project's not forgotten and believes there may be some movement on it soon.

"But I would have been confident (saying) that at the end of October," he said. "No one said no yet, which is great."

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Daniel Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian