Almost 50 people came out to support ongoing efforts to restore the Upper Canada Heritage Trail in Niagara-on-the-Lake Monday afternoon.
Town leaders and members of the heritage trail committee unveiled one of six new information boards that now dot the walking trail’s route.
Lauren and Vaughn Goettler of the Goettler Family Foundation donated $6,000 to help pay for the boards.
The Goettlers have also given $20,000 to support the planting of pollinator gardens along the trail, Lauren Goettler told The Lake Report.
“It’s been a long time coming. We started this project last spring. So we could get the plantings done in June,” she added.
“If we can really get this pollinator garden going it could be world renowned.”
Her husband said the trail was overgrown with a lot of non-native species.
“It’s a part of our history. And it’s a part of our history that we need to protect because so much of it is going away,” he added.
“It’s here for the town. It’s here for the tourists, it’s here for everyone. So enjoy.”
The boards display information on various natural and historical features of the trail, including its wildlife, rare trees, waterways and history, said a town news release.
The information on the boards was written by Owen Bjorgan, who was unable to attend the unveiling, said Tony Chisholm, vice-chair of the heritage trail committee.
Restoration efforts for the trail go back to 2017, said Rick Meloen, chair of the committee.
While the committee realized it was going to be a multi-year project, “we didn’t expect it to be this many years,” he told the crowd.
The pandemic slowed down the restoration efforts but, “What I didn’t expect is the support that the community has given to this trail,” Melon added.
The trail has become much more than a path, it has become a “learning facility.”
Despite publicity efforts Meloen said he had not seen an uptick in donations to the heritage trail.
“It’s very, very slow,” he told The Lake Report after the unveiling.
He said the committee will be pushing people to give more and “open up your wallets” in the spring.
Virgil resident Ingrid Regier said the trail was “one of the last few gems” for residents of NOTL.
She described council’s now-reversed decision to grant developer Benny Marotta and his company Solmar a right of way over the heritage trail for access to the Rand Estate subdivision as a “shame.”
Lauren Goettler said she was “shocked” when she learned of the initial decision.
“I can’t believe that our town council even offered that. That is shocking,” she said.
Though the Goettlers planned to pitch in another $40,000 over the next two years, she said they were asking themselves if they still “want to do that.”
“Apparently, we can invest our money in that trail and then the town can just do whatever they want with it.”
Coun. Tim Balasiuk, also at the unveiling, said some parts of the Rand Estate wall, which runs parallel to the trail, will likely be “retrofitted” to advance the future subdivision.
“The fact of the matter is, if it’s going to be an emergency laneway, then it’s going to be augmented at some point.”
He also said he’d like to see the trail “stay the way that it is.”
Balasiuk said the trail represented his “old stomping grounds,” where he once rode dirt bikes as a kid.
“It was just a fun place to grow up.”