Looking to develop a multi-use trail based on the Grand River and its tributaries, a volunteer group is seeking the support of municipalities in the watershed. Last week, it touted the benefits of the project to Wellesley council.
The Grand Trails Project is a vision to create a unique recreational experience through a network of connected trails following the Grand River and its tributaries from the source in the Dundalk highlands to the mouth at Lake Erie using a combination of existing and new land and water trails.
“The unique feature of this project is that it wants to include the river as a trail,” said the organization’s Anne Crowe on July 4 in Crosshill council chambers. “Which takes us back to our heritage when the river in fact, for the indigenous and early settlers, was an important trail before there were roads. This would be a really unique recreation experience.”
Crowe requested the township’s approval in principal for the concept, noting that the group would very much appreciate the support of regional staff in making the Grand Trail a reality and providing a letter of support to help with future funding applications.
The trails will provide connections to Lake Ontario, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay through other major regional trails, inline with the Ontario Trail Strategy.
“We have been trying to make it clear to the province that this is very important as the spine of their whole trail strategy,” she said.
The vision of the volunteers is to develop the Grand River watershed into a living storybook, one that will connect people and communities through heritage, cultural and outdoor experiences.
“This is not just about racing from point A to point B. It is about participating in the watershed,” she said. “If you think about it, kids these days are very nature-deprived. Take them out on the river, and you can talk about heritage, ecology, history, geography, landscape, as well as physical activity. You can have the whole curriculum in one afternoon in the river, make it real to them.”
Another goal of the trail is to encourage community-focused cultural, heritage, educational, athletic and spiritual events on and around the river, acknowledging indigenous connections with the waterway.
“We have included Six Nations in our discussions because, as you know, six miles on either side of the Grand River was given by treaty to the indigenous people and much of it was sold off,” she said. “We want to acknowledge those connections and help bring the two communities closer together.”
Crowe said they want to be inclusive to everyone, providing people of all ages, interests and abilities a place on the trail.
In explaining the benefits of the trail, Crowe touched on the improvement the trail would make to public health, the environmental footprint and local tourism in the area.
“It will create recreational opportunities and tourism opportunities,” she said. “Bike tourism is enormous, and Ontario has really missed the boat on it.”
Crowe said the costs to the municipalities involved would simply be to take care of their own existing infrastructure – making the decision regarding investment to their portion of the trail.
“This project relies on the municipalities and other trail owners such as Grand River Conservation Authority doing whatever you’re doing already,” she said. “This doesn’t make you do anything – we are not asking you to invest money. We are just trying to coordinate the projects that already exist and bring in provincial and federal funds to fill in the gap.”
The volunteer group expects the project to attract provincial and federal infrastructure investment and sponsorship money. Additional costs will come with the placement of signage, a webpage, mapping apps, and access points and amenities.
“This would be as much a resource for local people as it would be for others,” she said.
Mayor Joe Nowak agreed, mentioning that he often hears from local residents about their enjoyment of trails, but the hassle they go through having to travel to places such as Elmira and further to reach them.
“Thank you very much this is a great initiative,” he said before moving to have staff create a report to endorse the project formally at the next council meeting.
Brant County, Brantford, Haldimand County, the City of Cambridge, the City of Kitchener, the City of Waterloo, the Region of Waterloo, Six Nations of the Grand and the Grand Valley Trail Association currently endorse the project.
The Grand River Watershed is the largest watershed in southern Ontario, stretching 300 kilometres from Dundalk to Lake Erie, with major tributaries being Conestogo, Speed, Eramosa and Nith rivers.