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Donation helps get Elmira Lions on the move

A donation from Ron Cressman (seated) allowed the Elmira Lions Club to purchase a utility vehicle and custom trailer to access the group’s memorial forest, part of the trail network that’s the purview of Art Woods, Richard Beisel and Andy Heal. [Steve Kannon]

Following the dedication ceremony at the Lions Club memorial forest in Elmira, long-time supporter Ron Cressman suggested the group ought to have a way to transport people to the location off the Kissing Bridge Trail. He may not have known that would mean he’d end up writing a cheque for the “people-mover” now part of the club’s offerings.

Today, there’s a John Deere Gator utility vehicle and custom-made trailer just waiting for the post-pandemic time when the Lions can resume holding such ceremonies.

“In 2019 when he had our last memorial service, he said our efforts had one big problem – ‘you have no way of moving people around,’” said club member Art Woods of Cressman’s suggestion.

“We had brought in some golf carts, but it didn’t work the best. He said, ‘I’ll look around and see and find something.’ Well, he came up with a couple ideas and then I talked him into my views – we ended up with something we’re all very happy with,” he added with a laugh.

“Ron has been a big supporter of the memorial forest.”

“I thought maybe it would be a good idea to get people out there,” said Cressman of the impetus for the people-mover project, joking that it boiled down to writing a “blank cheque.”

With a donation in hand, Woods was able to approach the local John Deere dealer for the utility vehicle, then approach West Montrose’s Walter Martin to come up with a custom trailer to transport people along the trail to the memorial forest.

“Premier Equipment gave us a very fair price on the unit. Walter Martin actually gave me a super deal on the trailer,” said Woods.

The Gator’s been put to work in maintaining the trail network and the memorial forest, with the transport services awaiting the resumption of the usual public services.

“We have not had a dedication service, which we normally do in June, since we had it,” he said of the new people-mover.

The Elmira Lions Club created a memorial forest along the Kissing Bridge Trailway in 2001, planting trees at the behest of families in memory of their loved ones. The club planted 316 trees initially before turning to municipal open space in the new subdivision following a 2012 agreement with the township. Today, there are 685 trees at the Elmira location, with the club currently seeking more space for future plantings.

Each tree is marked with a plaque indicating for whom it was planted. The club has also added features such as gazebos and benches along the trail to provide rest areas for visitors.

The club has a much larger forest in the Breslau area adjacent to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides facility there. To date, there have been just shy of 3,300 trees planted, with plenty of room to grow.

“Do we have space left there? Yeah – unlimited. It’s an 85 acre farm that was given to the Lions Foundation of Canada,” said Woods, noting that buildings and the existing tree grove account for about 25 acres. “We’ve got no problem down there increasing the size of the forest.”

Involved for more than 40 years with the Elmira Lions’ trail projects and with the launch of the memorial forest project, Woods says he’s relying on other club members to take up his mantle. Richard Beisel now chairs the trails committee, with Andy Heal looking after the memorial grove.

“They’re gradually taking over more, and that’s wonderful. I’m lucky to have good people coming along.”

Woods also points to a number of other volunteers who keep things running by taking on the likes of trail maintenance projects.

“For many, many years, Doug Martin did most of our mowing. I did it for the first five years – we started with my own mower and then we bought a mower, then Doug took over and did it for years,” said Woods, noting Cliff Gingrich and Rick Ladd have taken on those duties since Martin’s retirement.

That work has continued throughout the pandemic, as the trail network has been busier than ever.

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