On Sept. 28, 1980, Elmira Lions Club celebrated the opening of the Elmira Lions Trail. Now, 40 years later, the route has seen some modifications to its layout, including work done by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) that kept it closed until the end of August.
Part of the trail is located on GRCA property, with the Lions Club given permission to use it under the provision that members undertake general maintenance such as bush trimming and mowing the area.
The creation of the trail required a partnership with the GRCA, as well as the generosity of three individuals – Homer Schwindt, Ward Schwindt and David D.M. Martin – and the Floradale park committee. Some of the partnerships have changed over the past four decades, including a collaboration with Stewart Vogel and one with the Township of Woolwich, while the partnership through David D.M. Martin is continued on through his extended family.
Long-time Elmira Lions Club member Arthur Woods has seen much of the development of the trail, noting one particular difference between then and now: its popularity.
The trail wasn’t embraced in its early days, he said, though today it’s a busy place used by many.
“I was here Saturday morning at the lake trail… and, gosh, there had to be 20 cars parked up there in front of the place, [cyclists] and [walkers] down there. And it was amazing and wonderful: the lake trail gets used a fair bit,” he said.
Initially, the trail began at Homer Schwindt’s farm lane and ran along the Canagagigue Creek, with a stretch of trail running through Martin’s property. Crossing private property was something of an issue then, though it’s a common feature of Woolwich’s more extensive trail system today.
“People were intimidated,” said Woods of the original map. “And they were really looking to the lake, so it ended up we abandon the section from here to Reid Woods Drive, and then just kept it circling the lake, which is what everybody wanted,” he said, noting trail users would make shortcuts towards the lake, avoiding the farmers’ stretch as best as possible.
Although the lake trail isn’t as popular as the Kissing Bridge Trail, Woods suggests that’s due to the difficulty in locating the path. To modernize the trail, Woods and his team were interested in laying stone dust the route, but were met with resistance from cyclists who preferred the more natural feeling of the paths.
Woods says it’s only through the hard work of volunteers and the generosity of those allowing use of their land that a project as ambitious as the trail has been kept alive all these years. He praised all those involved for making it possible.
The Elmira Lions Club has a long history of trail work in Woolwich Township, something the group has kept doing even as its ability to raise funds for such projects has been curtailed by the coronavirus crisis. The Lions Hall, for instance, has seen bookings drop off dramatically, though Canadian Blood Services has continued to rent the space for it monthly blood-donor clinics. Still, the usual revenue streams have all but dried up, leaving little money for operations, said Woods.
Though not holding its usual fundraisers, the club is still accepting donations from the public in support of its many community projects.