Concerned the province might sell the land home to an expansive trail network, the Region of Waterloo will petition Queen’s Park to keep the resource in public hands.
The move comes in response to a letter from the government that indicates it’s thinking about declaring as surplus provincial land that forms the basis of the Kissing Bridge Trailway (KBT) and the local stretch of the Guelph to Goderich (G2G) Rail Trail, perhaps clearing the way to sell the property.
Currently, the region leases the land from the province under five-year deals that have been the basis of trail expansion along the former railroad corridor.
“I feel really strongly this would be a mistake to sell off. We need to respect the wishes of the community and the investment they made in this trail because lots of people see this as a true asset,” said regional Chair Karen Redman in an interview.
The issue was discussed at a regional council meeting June 19, leading to the decision to request that the province halt the disposition process. Moreover, the region wants Queen’s Park to consider a longer-term lease on the KBT land.
“We’re asking them to hit the pause button and see if we can arrange something that would ensure that it would be intact and in place for a much longer time for public use,” said Redman.
“We would suggest a 15-, 20-, 25-year lease. Something that brings some certainty to the government. We’ll have to review the terms of it, of course, but it’s our hope that we can continue to safeguard that for public use.”
Local MPP Mike Harris says there’s nothing to fear, however.
“The Kissing Bridge Trail system is not on the list of surplus lands currently for sale. The government consults with local municipalities and stakeholders on this process, Chair Karen Redman and I are in agreement that this trail should remain open to the public,” said the Kitchener-Conestoga representative said in an email.
“The trail is a key part of the link for the Guelph to Goderich Trail which is quickly becoming a great tourist attraction for southern Ontario. It is important to keep it intact,” said Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz.
The Region of Waterloo and County of Wellington jointly leased the KBT in September 1997. The 44.5-kilometre former rail line officially runs from Guelph to Millbank, passing through a variety of rural communities, rivers, and wetlands. It is used for hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in permitted areas. The KBT is part of the 148-km G2G trail, with stretches running through Elmira and West Montrose.
Trail maintenance is a significant community effort; local steward groups take part in routine trail maintenance activities, such as tree planting, bench installation, grass cutting, the application of stone dust, and general improvement of the appearance of the trailway.
The West Montrose Residents’ Association looks after the Grand River to Northfield Drive section, the Elmira Lions Club watches over the Northfield Drive to Wallenstein division, and the Linwood Lions Club takes care of the Wallenstein to Linwood piece.
The majority of the funding for developing the KBT has come from the Trailway Steward Groups or private donations. Over the past three years, private donations have increased, mainly because of G2G’s Spring on the Trail event.
“And you don’t get [the trail] back, right?” said Redman. “I know a few years ago the federal government divested themselves of a whole lot of real estate – and they were our embassies internationally, and these were amazing places which were worth a lot of money, and they’re aging structures, but you’ll never get them back. You can only sell an asset once. So you have to tread carefully, I think.”