Haliburton County council deferred making a decision June 14 on whether to allow sideby-sides on the rail trail.

Council heard from Carolyn Richards of the Kawartha and Haliburton ATV associations, as well as Friends of the Rail Trail (FoRT) chair Pamela Marsales.

Richards said, like ATVs and dirt bikes, side-by-sides must be licensed, registered and have insurance, with driver age, and vehicle size regulations.

Side-by-side sales have grown exponentially over the years, Richards said. She added while ATVs are allowed on the rail trail, side-by-sides are not. All County roads, with a couple of exceptions, are open to ATVs, side-by-sides and off-road motorcycles.

“We are looking to ask for a trial period to allow side-by-sides on the rail trail,” she said. The association is recommending a two-year pilot, with reports from County staff and the association after the first year.

In pleading her case, Richards said seniors, families and people with disabilities are turning to side-by-sides.

“By providing designated trails, you are taking the pressure off of areas where they might be trespassing. We’re trying to create places for the rail trail to connect to other trail systems. It’s not for them to just run up and down the rail trail for no reason, but to get from point A to point B on the trails to get to another area, whether it’s for gas or food, in a community.”

Richards said the associations wants to ensure safe and legal use, via trail patrol, signage, education, and possible future bylaw enforcement. She said a partnership with the County would ensure accountability. “Our experience in the City of Kawartha Lakes has been that the more managed the trail is, the less complaints we get from the residents.”

Richards added she works in risk management and insurance, and the association has $5 million liability with the County listed on its policies as additional insured. They pay for trail maintenance, having recently spent $100,000 on the Victoria County Rail Trail in the Somerville Forest and $15,000 per km of trail between Lindsay and Kinmount.

She said in other jurisdictions, they have successfully shared the trail with ATVs, sideby-sides, walkers, bicyclists and horseback riders. “We’ve never had a conflict. We’ve never had a problem. We’ve never had an accident in all the years we’ve been doing this since, I believe, 2019.

“You get that one per cent not following the rules, but the majority of riders are respectful people. We’re not a bunch of people just coming to race around for no reason.” She added they favour hefty fines for offenders.” Speed limits are 20 kilometres per hour coming into towns, and 50 kilometres an hour on trails.

“We take this seriously. We take our role as trail stewards seriously. And this is something we want to bring into Haliburton County in partnership with the Haliburton ATV association. What we’re asking you is allow us to do what we do best, manage this, but work with you in partnership because side-by-sides aren’t going away.” She added they will bring tourism dollars into the County.

Friends of rail trail disapprove

Marsales said side-by-sides are different from the ATVs of the early 2000s, at the time of the Rail Trail Master Plan. She said they are larger and more powerful.

“We’re suggesting you follow these existing plans and strategies that are practices for public benefit, because they optimize the best economic advantage to the County’s budget. Bottom line, they’re socially and fiscally responsible.”

Marsales said adding a “new, more extreme, motorized use to the County on the rail trail would predictably deter other types of public green space activities. This would trigger negative repercussions in direct contrast to these best practices, recommendations and strategies.”

She added side-by-sides go against the County climate change action plan, active transportation, health promotion, the agefriendly communities master plan, asset management plan, and promotion of the area as bicycle-friendly.

“This is a big market that is untapped. That is mentioned specifically in the Haliburton County cycling master plan. A combination of rail trails, off-road and on-road cycling opportunities would provide a complete network and wide array of cycling opportunities for residents and visitors alike.”

Councillors weigh in

Coun. Lisa Schell said she has been driving off-road vehicles since she was eight, so does not find them as “menacing” as some. She added ATVs give young people something to do, while seniors are gravitating towards side-by-sides. She thinks side-by-sides would travel slower on trails. She said she’d be comfortable with a two-year pilot.

Coun. Bob Carter was seeking more information and Coun. Dave Burton said he was not opposed to a trial but would like further details as well.

Coun. Cec Ryall said while FoRT’s concerns were “real,” some appeared “slightly extreme” and could be mitigated with proper planning. With more information, he was also leaning towards a pilot.

Coun. Murray Fearrey asked why it couldn’t be a one-year trial, and had concerns about bylaw enforcement. “I think we need to be careful with this. We spent hours and hours and hours trying to decide what should be on the rail trail and what shouldn’t.”

Coun. Walt McKechnie also wants information on things such as what sideby-sides do to the trail surface and related maintenance costs.

Coun. Jennifer Dailloux raised the issue of “the deteriorating slippery slope of something that is multi-use becoming, over years, something that is really all about all terrain and off-road vehicles, almost to the exclusion of others.”

A staff report will come back to a future council meeting.