Railbed gaps, ATV bans create hurdles for tour groups

Tour groups simply can't ride in some areas such as the Humber Valley, where twinning of the TCH in the early 90s led to destruction of the old railbed.

Humber Valley section of railbed removed in 90s, also no route to Corner Brook hotels

Roger Cormier of Outatime Tours says when his clients are riding the old railbed in N.L, they can imagine being on the train and riding the rails. (Submitted/Roger Cormier)

ATV tours across Newfoundland have been popular for decades, but tour operators say they're still dealing with many of the same challenges, including places where they simply can't ride.

One of those is the area from just west of Corner Brook to Pasadena, where the old railway bed was removed to make way for twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway back in the early 1990s.

The government of the day said an alternate route would be constructed in the Humber Valley area, but it never happened. 

You'd swear to God you were on the train.- Roger Cormier

ATV tour operator Roger Cormier said it's time for government to follow through.

"It's unfortunate. That was supposed to be a full trailway, right across. I think they should get at it, real quick."

Cormier's company, Outatime Tours, based in New Brunswick, offers ATV tours across Newfoundland each year. 
Roger Cormier has been leading ATV tours to Newfoundland since 1993. (Submitted/Roger Cormier)

He said the lure of riding the old railbed across areas like the Gaff Topsails is hard to put into words.

"It's unbelievable. There's areas that you're driving, you'd swear to God you were on the train. You can imagine in your mind being on the train, and riding the rails."

Cormier said it was initially a bit of a challenge to figure out the best alternate route to get his clients through the Humber Valley but, after dozens of tours over the past 24 years, he knows just where to lead them now.

He claims his ATV tour is the only one that does that, with all the other companies choosing to put ATVs on trailers and transport them around, missing out entirely on a visit to Corner Brook.

No plans to bridge the gap

But the provincial government doesn't have any intention of creating an alternate route to replace the section of the old railbed removed from the Humber Valley. 
Christopher Mitchelmore is Minister of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation. His department says there is no plan to construct an ATV trail to fill the gap left in the Humber Valley. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"Given the fiscal situation of the province, there is no plan at this time to construct a new ATV trail to fill the gap," the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister told CBC News in an emailed statement.

Roger Cormier said that's a shame, considering all the money that is spent by ATVers on travel, hotels, restaurants, and gas.

Cormier said a 12-person ATV tour led by him recently spent about $3,200 during a one-night stay in Corner Brook.

No permission to ride

Cormier's other hurdle when he arrives in Corner Brook is that there is no legal route to get from just outside the city to hotels.

ATV use in the city is not permitted under municipal regulations.

That leaves Cormier not only skirting the city, but skirting the law, too.

"We sort of sneak in, unfortunately. But I do it as carefully and as safely as I can."

Roger Cormier's N.B.-based Outatime Tours has been offering ATV tours across Newfoundland since 1993. (Submitted/Roger Cormier)

Cormier would like the City of Corner Brook to ease up on its restrictions to allow ATV tourists to get to their accommodations. 

He said municipal regulations in Gander are also used to keep ATVers out, but he said council there made some changes to make that town more welcoming to ATV tours.

He'd like to see Corner Brook do the same.

City willing to work on a solution

But Mayor Charles Pender says Corner Brook can't have ATVers going wherever they please, and can't make an exception just for ATV tours. 
Mayor Charles Pender acknowledges that ATV tours bring money into the city, but says the motorized vehicles can't be given free rein. (Colleen Connors CBC )

"We see, and I do personally, see the value in this. There's a lot of money at stake here. But how do we do this, taking into account that we don't want to go into residential areas?"

Pender said the city is already in talks with the Newfoundland and Labrador Snowmobile Federation about how to create a route from snowmobile trails to city hotels.

He recognized that there are differences in what snowmobilers and ATVers require in terms of a suitable trail, but he thinks having the two groups collaborate could result in a solution that would work for both.

As for a stretch of the old railbed in the Curling area of Corner Brook that is now a cycling and walking trail maintained by the city, Pender said the province wanted the city to take over that part of the railbed years ago, and it won't be made available again for ATV use.

"It would have been nice 20 years if somebody had thought of it but, at this point in time, it would probably be a lot less expensive to design a different trail."

Roger Cormier says people in N.L. were promised a continuous off-road route across the island, but that hasn't become a reality. (Submitted/Roger Cormier)

About the Author

Bernice Hillier

Bernice Hillier is the host of The Corner Brook Morning Show, and covers issues all over western Newfoundland and southern Labrador.