It has taken one volunteer to spearhead the effort to develop and open up cross-country and snowshoeing trails in North Grenville.
While the municipality has been supportive, Sarah Herring is the driving force behind the Kemptville Winter Trail initiative.
"I first heard a few years ago about a new trail being developed in Ottawa and thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to develop something like that here?" said Herring.
She had moved to Kemptville in the spring of 2017 and soon after got involved with Friends of Ferguson Forest Centre, and the municipal Active Transportation Committee.
"I have a strong appreciation for nature and water in particular; that's what drew me to Kemptville. I'm a boat builder, my husband and I have built three boats," said Herring.
She added she grew up cross-country skiing with her dad, but early onset arthritis took her off the trails for a number of years until she was able to get a new hip and now she's hoping to get back out gently.
"Sarah got started with the idea of forming a trails group to work collaboratively with the municipality and Ferguson Forest Centre, and I supported it," said Coun. Doreen O'Sullivan, who sits on the same two boards.
The land within the Ferguson Forest Centre is mostly Crown land with some municipal land as well, according to O'Sullivan, and there are already a number of walking trails, a dog park and a newly opened toboggan hill within the boundaries of the forest centre.
"COVID has changed things quite a bit and we need these trails more than ever now. The curling club is closed, the arena is closed, travel is restricted and snowbirds are staying home. Hence the winter trails are very important to provide to our community; it's a physical and mental health issue, and a safe environment for social contact," said O'Sullivan.
The new Kemptville Winter Trails will not be using the established walking trails in Ferguson Forest, but are developing new trails on the 25 acres of land known as the arboretum.
"We had permission to start working in Ferguson Forest. Our goal is to start the multi-use trails at the forest centre but expand throughout the municipality. In total we expect to have six kilometres of trails this year and then expand into more of the residential areas, but avoid the snowmobile trails," said Herring.
The idea, she said, is to create trails that can be used for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skate skiing and fat bikes.
"It'll be trial and error in the first year to see what works for everyone and whether it's right for fat bikes or whether we’ll need the trails to be more packed, whether we need a roller as well as the trail groomer," said Herring.
This year, Herring says the tails will be groomed for cross-country skiers, and there will be a flat area for snowshoeing, skate skiing and fat bikes. If all goes well, the trails should open by the end of January, when it's hoped more snow will have arrived.
Herring started working on the project last year, just before the first pandemic lockdown. One of the first things she did was register the group as a not-for-profit corporation to give it the legitimacy to fundraise.
"We've since raised more than $5,000 in the community through a GoFundMe campaign, Facebook and direct approaches to businesses," said Herring.
Between corporate and individual donations the group has raised enough money to buy a trail grooming machine, which has just been ordered and is expected to arrive in the next day or two. Herring says they'll still need to secure more funding for operations and are just working through the last hurdle before they can open the trails – namely insurance.
"There’s a lot of red tape – getting set up with bank accounts, finding someone who can offer the kind of insurance we need to operate, creating and paying for signage – that kind of thing," said Herring.
Although the municipality has been supportive of the initiative, in the end the project has been a volunteer effort.
"What we've done as an organization is bringing pieces together, but it's the whole community that’s making this happen," said Herring.
Over the past two months, Herring, who is retired from Statistics Canada, says she's put in about 20 hours a week, but hopes the pace will drop off once the trails open.
"While Sarah is very determined and I admire her 'get-up-and-go' attitude, she can be impatient with the bureaucracy, and I do appreciate her frustration. I share her passion for the outdoors and support the whole concept," said O’Sullivan, adding that as a cross country skier herself she's thrilled that there are going to be new winter trails in the municipality.
O'Sullivan said she has encouraged the group to apply for a municipal community grant to top up their coffers and speed up the opening.
The total municipal grant envelope is $125,000. Herring said the group has pulled together an application for about $1,500 to $2,000, which was headed to council.
The biggest hurdle right now is insurance, but because the group is incorporated privately, it can't be covered under municipal insurance.
"It's been very difficult to find someone who understands what we need and can provide it. There aren't very many insurance companies that do this kind of insurance," said Herring.
Meanwhile, O'Sullivan said the municipality is working with the group to try to get them over the last hurdles if they can. She also appreciates the support of local business and individuals who have supported the fundraising initiatives.
"This is a great thing for our community, particularly during COVID, people need things to do, and it's going to be a wonderful asset," said O'Sullivan, who also has the backing of Mayor Nancy Peckford.
"It was one of the things we heard over and over again from residents when we were campaigning. People wanted to see more recreational options close to home," said Peckford.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times