Presented By David McClung
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
I’m here to fill you in on some aspects of the Haldimand County Cycling and Hiking Trails network, especially in the Cayuga area.
First, a bit of background. There used to be a lot more railroads in this area than there are now. Then about 1990, the Canadian National Railway Company decided to close a lot of them. They took up the rails, then offered the land for sale to the local government.
Some governments chose to buy these corridors and develop trails on them, such as the Chippewa Trail that runs from Hamilton to near Caledonia.
Haldimand County chose not to buy, so here the corridors were divided into sections and sold to private owners. Some bits were sold to farmers, some had houses built on them, some even became subdivisions. In any case, in Haldimand County, the corridors are no longer intact.
Despite the lack of intact, offroad corridors, Haldimand County later commissioned a study from two big-city consultants. It was called the Trails Master Plan and Partnership Framework Study. This document, delivered in 2009, is what’s been guiding trails development in Haldimand ever since.
It proposes a county-wide system of trails, almost all of it on the shoulders of roads, including heavy truck routes such as Highway 3 and Regional Road 17. Haldimand County also went to the big city and hired a Sunshine List manager to implement this plan.
So where are we at now? How much progress has been made in nine years? If I were a tourist and I asked you where the trails are in Cayuga, what direction would you point me in?
You may be shocked to learn that, according to Haldimand County, Cayuga is home to no fewer than four trails : the Green Route, the Blue Route, the Grand Valley Trail, and the Trans-Canada Trail. At the top is a bit of the map from the brochure that Haldimand County uses to promote its trails. It proves that these trails exist.
And above is a photograph taken just last Tuesday of three of them running together on Regional Road 17.
So, as you can see, Cayuga is practically bursting with trails.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “How much did all this fake trail development cost?” Well, in addition to the cost of the brochures and the signs that are about the only evidence that these trails exist, there’s the cost of staff time. And nine years of a Sunshine List salary totals up to about a million dollars.
So, if you were a Sunshine List manager, and you had accomplished nothing more than this in nine years, wouldn’t you want to do something really spectacular to mark the tenth anniversary of Haldimand County’s Trails Master Plan? Fortunately, our manager didn’t even have to think up a project. A citizen approached the County with a grandiose plan that was just the thing: the Cayuga Bridge Rail Trail.
The idea was to make not just a trail, but a magnificent scenic lookout on top of the old CN rail bridge across the Grand River in Cayuga. And this citizen owned a section of the old railway right-of-way west of the bridge, and was willing to donate it to the County in exchange for a tax receipt.
All the County had to do was buy the bridge, buy the railway right-of-way east of the bridge, build trailheads, install a new deck on the bridge, and add railings, benches, garbage cans and signage. The cost: $1.4 million, plus the cost of paving King George Street, and maybe a few other little things.
The plan was brilliant, except for two details: there was no evidence that anybody would ever use the trail, and the trail would not be accessible, even though it was to be constructed after the 2018 deadline for making all new recreational trails accessible to the disabled.
Then a third problem cropped up: somebody came along with heavy equipment, bulldozed the trees, piled up high, ugly berms along both sides of the path, and then made off with the ballast stone the trail was supposed to be built on. So instead of a high, dry, scenic nature walk, the property had become a low, muddy, ugly wasteland with no charm whatsoever—not to mention that the trail would not be accessible, and there was no evidence that anyone would use it.
Fortunately, the County was not quite yet on the hook for buying this useless mess. There was time to back out of the deal. Concerned citizens addressed Council on August 22, 2017, asking them to do just that. Council’s reaction? Full steam ahead, buy the property, and don’t even bother to adjust the budget even though costs would now be much higher.
Perhaps it mattered that the citizen promoting the project had a brother-in- law on Council.
Anyway, that’s how you and I are about to get stuck with a huge bill for the Cayuga Bridge Rail Trail, a bill for an amount that could probably pay for major museum enhancements, a new community hall in South Cayuga, and a less grandiose but mostly off-road, probably better used, and completely accessible walking trail in Cayuga that might look something like this.(see below).
Let’s face it : when it comes to rail trail development, Haldimand County missed the boat. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have nice trails— real trails—even in Cayuga. But before that can happen, the County staff and council are going to have to forget about their own unrealistic and outdated agenda, and talk with—not at—the people about what can and should be done.
If you think the crew in office right now is not up to having that kind of conversation, then on October 22, please replace them. And right now, please let the current councillors and staff know, loud and clear, that you don’t want $1.4 million——plus, plus, plus——wasted on the Cayuga Bridge Rail Trail the way the project is currently laid out.