A trail for all

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I’ve been a cyclist my whole life. Until I moved to Haliburton County.

In the early days, I tried to ride along Hwy. 35 and Hwy. 118 but found it a white-knuckle experience as the shoulders of the road were a terrible surface and much too narrow. The vehicles whizzed by way too close.

I occasionally get the mountain bike out, with the thicker tires, and have a ride on the rail trail. However, I find the surface to be much too sandy and it’s an exhausting slog. And while I find the ATV drivers on the trail friendly; many wave and slow down so they do not leave me in a cloud of dust, the experience is less than exhilarating and my bikes, both the hybrid and mountain, spend far too much time on a hook in the garage.

So, full disclosure, I had a vested interest in the County council discussion on possibly allowing side-by-sides on the Haliburton County Rail Trail.

The Kawartha and Haliburton ATV Associations had pitched a two-year trial, and it was a good pitch. They noted side-by-side sales had grown exponentially over the years, and seniors, families and people with disabilities were opting for them over ATVs and motorbikes.
Further, they were looking for a way to connect to other trail systems, with the rail trail acting as somewhat of a spine.

The associations were offering trail patrol, signage, education and possible future bylaw enforcement. They came with insurance. They were willing to help with the cost of trail maintenance. They said they were good sharers and virtually accident-free. They said speed limits would be 20 km/hr. coming into town and 50 km/hr. on trails. They were all for hefty fines for violators.

Not surprisingly, the Friends of the Rail Trail countered with the fact side-by-sides are larger and more powerful than ATVs. They also said the County had a Rail Trail Master Plan it should be following. They said side-by-sides go against the County climate change action plan, active transportation, health promotion, the age-friendly communities master plan, asset management plan, and promotion of the area as bicycle-friendly.

Going into the Nov. 22 meeting, I was not sure where council would land on this one.

At the previous, June meeting, coun. Lisa Schell said she’d be comfortable with a two-year pilot. Coun. Dave Burton was not opposed, but did want more information. Coun. Cec Ryall was leaning towards giving the associations a ‘go.’

However, coun. Bob Carter set the tone last week. He said it would be downright irresponsible for parents, grandparents and dog walkers to be on a trail with wide side-by-sides going by at 50 km/hr.

Warden Liz Danielsen said she felt what started out as a multi-use trail had now tipped too far over to motorized use. ATVs are allowed on the trail as are snowmobiles.

Coun. Murray Fearrey waded in with concerns about enforcement and side-by-sides creating ruts on the trail, and coun. Jennifer Dailloux commented on the wonderful trail system across the County for motorized vehicles.

The same can’t be said for cycling routes.

It was four votes of eight as council headed towards defeating the two-year pilot ask.

I’m not going to lie. I was pleased with the result. Now, I only hope the public works department can figure out a better surface for the rail trail so cyclists such as myself are not out of the saddle trying to get through inches of sand.