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Friday, July 12, 2024
Guest Column: Four more kilometres of heritage trail will soon be finished
This large signs welcomes visitors to the Upper Canada Heritage Trail. TONY CHISHOLM
This plaque commemorates "trail blazing" donors who contributed to the heritage trail's revitalization. TONY CHISHOLM
It was a bit wet and muddy for last year's Paws on the Trail fundraiser for the heritage trail. RENE BERTSCHI
The heritage trail is a pleasant and interesting trek whether you're an avid hiker or just a recreational walker. TONY CHISHOLM
Naturalist Owen Bjorgan supplied the information for the new interpretive signs that have been installed. TONY CHISHOLM
This plaque commemorates "trail blazing" donors who contributed to the heritage trail's revitalization. TONY CHISHOLM

Tony Chisholm
Special to The Lake Report

The Upper Canada Heritage Trail committee was established in 2017 to develop the old rail line in Niagara-on-the-Lake into a finished multi-use trail for active use and enjoyment by the public — and to boost awareness of its historical significance. 

The trail in NOTL follows the historic rail line of the old, later the Michigan Central Railroad, which provided a connection for steamship passengers coming from Toronto to Niagara Falls, Buffalo and beyond for nearly 100 years. 

This rail connection was a key part of 19th-century tourism that connected tourists arriving in town to other parts of Niagara and Buffalo. Rail service was discontinued in the late 1950s and the railway’s land is now owned by the Town of NOTL.

The trail’s accessibility and prominence had been compromised by years of disrepair, overgrowth of foliage and erosion.

The restored multi-use trail will encourage ecotourism for hiking, cycling, jogging, dog walking etc. The plan is to eventually connect Old Town and St. Davids and hook up to the Bruce Trail.

The enthusiasm for this project has exceeded our expectations. The interest in local historical and heritage items has increased over the years and the history of the railway that followed the path of the trail is no exception. 

The efforts by the volunteer committee have succeeded in raising nearly $200,000 to date for the first two phases of the trail’s restoration.

More than 140 local people have donated in the past few years. As well, area businesses and organizations have been very generous.  

There is a very broad interest in this project. With the help of the town, the volunteer committee has secured grants from provincial and federal sources.

One $60,000 government grant has enabled us  to start the reconstruction of phase 2 from East and West Line to line 3. 

To date the committee has been able to erect four large trail entrance signs and improve three entrances with armour stone and plantings.

As well, six permanent interpretive signs have been installed thanks to the generosity of the Goettler Family Foundation.

These informative signs were written by well-known Niagara naturalist Owen Bjorgan and help enhance the experience of those who use the trail.

To construct a proper trail along the 10 kilometres of the former railroad right of way, the plan is to do it in four phases. 

Phase 2 is due to be completed this year. 

The trail will be continued south from East and West Line along the east side of Concession 1. The portion to Line 1 is partially completed already and the plan is to finish the trail all the way to Line 3 by the end of the year.

That represents nearly four kilometres of the trail completely restored by the end of this year.

Everything about this project has been positive. The completed trail so far has drawn a large and positive reaction.

Many more people now use and appreciate the value of having a finished multi-use trail so close to town.

How much safer will it be it to provide a wide, finished pathway that would get hikers and cyclists off dangerous Concession 1, while at the same time connecting old town with St. Davids and the Bruce Trail?

Continuing our fundraising activities this year we are planning a dog walk called “Paws on the Trail” on Sept. 7. 

We’d like to see all the town’s dogs come out with their owners to have fun, walk the trail and help our fundraising efforts.

There are still many challenges to come and more fundraising to undertake for Phase 3. We are very appreciative of the community support and support of town council and staff. 

For more information, check out the trail’s website at heritagetrail.ca.

Tony Chisholm is vice-chair of the Upper Canada Heritage Trail committee.

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