SWM contemplates nature trail concept

by Marie Williams-Gagnon, Transcript & Free Press
The benefits of creating a nature trail on the abandoned CN line in Southwest Middlesex were contemplated by members of Southwest Middlesex council during the January 19 meeting. Community in Blooms committee members Jane May and Gerald Reycraft attended the meeting for a  discussion about the concept.
In June of 2008, council was originally made aware of CN’s plans to sell sections of the spur line to St. Thomas. After unsuccessfully offering it to the provincial and federal governments, CN began offering it to municipalities with the salvage of steel anticipated to be greater than $4-million. The “Rails to Trails” program was discussed by Southwest Middlesex council at that time, as were potential issues such as fencing. The Township of Southwold declined a similar offer in 2008, finding that the substantial purchase price and major undertaking to recover the investment from salvage was undesirable. Southwest Middlesex took no action on the $1-million offer from CN at that time.
Since then, of course, CN has removed all of the lines and new discussions about use of the property continue. May made a presentation to council this past fall about the benefits of creating walking trails on the property.
Councillor John Kendall stated that owning such a trail would result in “a lot of liability for municipality. What has changed to make it suitable for a public walking trail now when considering the rights of owners in needing to erect fences?”
Mayor Doug Reycraft pointed out that, in his inaugural address, he had commented on the feasibility of creating trails. He had spoken to North Middlesex representatives about their experience after receiving the right of way for a trail as a gift from the railway. “North Middlesex has found it was used by a number of people. It has led me to think that establishing such a trail may be a feature that might attract people to the community or help keep people in the community.”
However, Reycraft noted that council should have more information before even considering this in principle. “To just endorse the suggestion is premature without more research and feedback from the community.”
Gerald Reycraft pointed out that a letter written to community groups asking for their endorsement has been put on hold until council’s approval is received. May added that they hoped that the letter would help council gain an idea of public support.
Doug Reycraft explained that council does not have enough information to endorse the nature trail but could set up an ad hoc committee. Councillors suggested including the snowmobile club and any interested adjacent landowners in the discussions.
Councillor Marigay Wilkins pointed out that there is a similar nature trail in West Elgin that is well used.
Doug Reycraft noted that the “fact that it’s worked in other municipalities may be an indication that it could be an asset but all avenues need to be considered.”
The report was referred back to staff to have a report come back before council about implementing an ad hoc committee to investigate the purchase and use of the land as a trail.
Marie Williams-Gagnon
Transcript & Free Press
Glencoe, Ontario

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