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Niagara Falls
Monday, February 26, 2024
Opinion: No harm in connecting Rand and heritage trail
John Morley argues it is a good idea to connect the heritage trail to the Rand Estate.

John Morley
Special to The Lake Report

In 1985, during the centennial year of the Niagara Parks Commission, I and my assistant laid out the Niagara River Recreation Trail from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie along the Niagara Parkway.

I can well remember the day when chair Pam Walker took the late James Harris and myself on a trip along the parkway to discuss her expectations and vision for the trail.

Once plans were finalized, approved by the commission and construction was underway, this 56-kilometre pathway was met with some opposition as well as a lot of support by nearby residents who realized the inherent value of having such a trail near their properties.

Co-operation and compromise was the order of the day.

Today, after close to 40 years, it’s safe to say the Niagara River Recreation Trail has been a wonderful recreational asset for cyclists as well as nearby residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

I was also involved with a committee from the Region of Niagara in the development of the Welland Canal Parkway Trail from Port Dalhousie to Port Colborne.

This project, chaired by a former regional councilor, has also undeniably contributed to the recreational fabric of Niagara.

This ambitious project involved working with municipalities and businesses along the Welland Canal. Compromises had to be made and various land use concerns had to be resolved.

Full co-operation as well as a clear understanding of operational issues and development responsibilities by all participating partners was essential in the planning process. This was successfully achieved by co-operatively and closely working together.

I have also been involved in work along the Friendship Trail in Fort Erie as well as providing advice for the development of a trail from Queenston Heights Park along Portage Road to Stanley Avenue in Niagara Falls.

Here, linkage would be beneficial to provide connection to an outstanding trail system that is found in Niagara Falls.

In addition, the construction of a trail by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake as well as the Region of Niagara along Portage and Town Line Roads to Creek Road would provide trail users with a safe route to the village of St. Davids, a fast-growing community that is bereft of any trail system.

The Upper Canada Heritage Trail, located along the Michigan Central Railway Line, has been in the news for some time.

I can well remember when trains would infrequently use the long-since abandoned tracks and come huffing and puffing with billowing clouds of black smoke to the edge of the Niagara Escarpment.

While this route has been abandoned for many years, it’s interesting to note that in several recent editions of The Lake Report, opposition exists to connecting the heritage trail to the Randwood Estate near where remnants of the former Whistle Stop train station exist today.

While this development could potentially provide access for cyclists as well as people who enjoy walking for pleasure, it’s a wonderful way to allow the public access to this unique property that I have enjoyed for over 60 years.

I’m very disappointed that NOTL council flip-flopped and rescinded its Dec. 15 decision to potentially connect the heritage trail and a roadway off Charlotte Street into the Randwood Estate.  

They easily could be functionally and aesthetically connected without damaging either property and allow generations to come to enjoy both.

Elected councils should act for the good of the community.

Importantly, if any roadway is ever approved or allowed off John Street, I feel that the cultural and natural landscape of the Randwood Estate would be significantly compromised.

To me, as I’m sure it’s obvious to many others as well, the magnificent brick wall along John Street is the character-defining element of this property.

It’s the bricks and mortar of the entire site and establishes a sense of mystery and magic for the landscape beyond it.

The natural landscape and character-defining buildings found on this property are what makes the Randwood Estate truly unique, truly special.

Not to be forgotten, the granddaddy of them all, the Bruce Trail starts at Queenston Heights Park and ends in Tobermory.

It traverses a part of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve on top of the Niagara Escarpment with a portion of its boundary in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

This trail is more than 900 kilometres long with another 450 kilometres of side trails. These trails provide an educational and recreational opportunity for visiting unique attractions along the way.

Such would be the case with access to the Randwood Estate – one of the most significant properties in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

As for the future of trails in our community, I would like to see an east-west connecting link at the southern edge of NOTL to provide a safe connection to St. Davids. 

The Town Line route would cross over the former Michigan Central Railway line, not only connecting to the heritage trail halfway down the slope, but also provide safe access to St. Davids by means of Creek Road at the toe of the Escarpment.

At the northern edge of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail already exists.

I would also like to see a quick conclusion to constructing the Upper Canada Heritage Trail, with money coming from the municipality instead of using the “cap in hand” fundraising method to complete this important link.

Co-operation, compromise, consensus, common sense, as well as a knowledgeable, well-informed, decisive council is necessary to construct and complete a unified trail system for the benefit of all residents of NOTL.

Obstructing creative ideas is not in our best interest. It never has been. It never will be.

Everyone should be taking the high road once in a while. Take a hike on the high road.

John Morley has a master’s degree in park administration and is a practising landscape architect. He lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

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