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University study to help with Wellesley trails

In a bid to bridge the divide between Wellesley residents regarding the development of a walking trail through the Schweitzer Crescent and Molesworth Street area of Wellesley, the township has enlisted the help of some rural planning graduate students from the University of Guelph The trail – referred to as the Bast Bush Trail – has drawn the ire of concerned citizens in the proposed area, voicing their concerns to council about lowered property values, diminished scenic views, and delinquent activity in the area.

The trail has divided the village and pitted neighbours against each other since it was first approved by the township back in June.

UNIVERSITY STUDY GROUP As part of Wellesley Township’s ongoing trails debate, University of Guelph Prof. Wayne Caldwell (left) and graduate students Jeff Medeiros, Shannon McIntyre, Cristal Heintzman, Rob Sissons and Reuben Joosse will be holding an open house on Mar. 9 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Wellesley Community Centre.

Since Wellesley council last discussed the topic at the end of 2010, chief administrative officer Susan Duke has been working to resolve the issue.

“Back in December I had recommended to council that rather than pushing forward with any trail in Wellesley Township […] we take a step back from all of that, and that council not give up ownership of the land but rather work on the concept for a trails master plan.”

Duke had been in discussion with Prof. Wayne Caldwell of the University of Guelph and arranged to have five of his students from the Advanced Planning Practices course work on this project for the municipality as a component of their studies.

The students will be responsible for conducting literature reviews of the impact of community trails as well as case study comparisons, public meetings and consultation, and they will ultimately prepare a report of their findings which their instructor hopes they will present to council or to township staff.

“That’s the direction that I’ve asked them to pursue, to set up a meeting with council or if council isn’t available, certainly with staff to present the report,” said Caldwell. “The problem, of course, is making sure that they can fit it into a schedule.”

Tentatively the class is scheduled to appear at the Apr. 4 session of council to present their findings, with their final report delivered on Apr. 15, the end of their school term.

Caldwell has been conducting tours of the township with his class for several years now, but this is the first time any of his students have been directly involved in a project of this nature.

“This is a real project, it’s hands-on, and it has potential of being assistance to the community. It is a big enough project that it justifies their involvement, but it isn’t too large to fit into the timeframe of the course,” he said.

The students will be conducting a public meeting and open house on Mar. 9 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Wellesley Community Centre. Members of the public, including Wellesley Trails Association, are encouraged to attend and share their concerns or their own vision for what the future trail system of Wellesley should look like.

In the end, the students will not be producing the trails master plan per se, and township staff is under no obligation to accept the students’ report as part of any master plan that may be developed in the future.

Rather, the students are working towards providing information that will be of assistance to the municipality and the general public when the township does decide to look further into the issues surrounding the trail in Wellesley.

“Our hope is that (the open house) will be an exchange of information, and I really hope that people won’t come with a predetermined idea that there is something else being forced on them,” said Duke.

“It’s an opportunity for them to provide the students with their issues, with their wants, wishes, and desires, and their ultimate goals.”

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