A new committee is getting off the ground with the aim of smoothing over management of the Thousand Islands Waterfront Trail.
The trail is a scenic, 36.9-kilometre path used by cyclists, joggers, and dog-walkers alike.
"As owners of the trail, we want to make sure all the users on the trail are safe. It's one of our primary concerns, making sure that everyone who uses the trail has a wonderful, safe and enjoyable experience, regardless what user group you are," said Greg Faaren, manager of environmental sustainability at the St. Lawrence Parks Commission (SLPC).
To help the SLPC with its commitment to safety, as well as to get a new committee off the ground, the commission signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ontario Trails Council (OTC) to establish the community-led Regional Trails Committee (RTC).
"They are the experts on making sure people who are on trails are safe, whether it's signage or other things. Again, this is where we'll be relying on OTC's experience on managing trails for the safety of everyone using them," said Faaren.
The OTC was chosen because of its extensive experience in managing trails all around the province.
To help with the waterfront trail, the OTC and SLPC created the committee with a focus on collaboration from stakeholders, local townships, and community members to bring a variety of voices and opinions to make the trail better and work on solutions to issues that may arise.
Faaren added: "We want this to be a collaborative and inclusive process; we want members of the community to be involved, because ultimately – this is a wonderful asset for the area, there's dozens and dozens of people using it every day, we want to make sure that they're able to use it safely for years to come."
The RTC planning is still in the works, having had only its first public meeting in early June. While they are still setting up the committee structure, they hope to have members from both the townships of Leeds and the Thousand Islands and Front of Yonge.
The OTC process involves a series of six meetings, three of which will be public, said Faaren.
"Hopefully, the next meeting will be next week, where we're going to be meeting with the folks who have expressed interest in forming a sort of core leadership group. And then our next public-facing we're targeting mid-July for that," he added.
The final meeting will be in September.
The first goals of the committee are to establish structure, core leadership, and have other roles and responsibilities defined.
"One of the first things we're going to do is, one of the first projects we're going to tackle, is snow removal. This is something that we want to have a solution in place for this coming winter, to make sure we can avoid as many conflicts as we can," said Faaren.
Currently the trail is recommended for April-to-October use.
The increased co-ordination over the trail's management 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.
That 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.
Meanwhile, many have questioned whether or not all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) would be able to use the trail when the committee starts to manage it.
"First of all, we have no plans to change or add any user groups to the trail at this time," said Faaren.
ATVs are currently against the SLPC's act and regulations.
"Any sort of changes to user groups will have to be brought up through the committee, with extensive public consultation, and if the committee decides they want to make a change, that'll be the committee's decision," said Faaren.
Currently, he noted, the goal is to focus on short-term issues like the winter plowing.
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times