Two community groups vying to manage Cape Breton trail
One wants to open trail to ATVers, the other doesn't want motorized vehicles
Two community groups are vying to take over management of a three-kilometre trail in a small Cape Breton village, but only one has their local council's support.
Both the East Richmond ATV Riders Club and the St. Peter's Community Club have been looking to take over management of the St. Peter's Coastal Trail, which links the community of St. Peter's and River Tillard
The Department of Lands and Forestry has been in control of the trail for the past 30 years. Both clubs applied to take it over around three years ago.
Richmond County council has thrown its support behind the ATV riders club, which would like to see the trail open to off-highway vehicle traffic as well as continue being used by walkers and cyclists.
"There are lots of walking areas in St. Peter's, we don't want to take away another walking area, we just want to upgrade it so we can walk and bike in it," said Ricky Stone, president of the East Richmond ATV Riders Club.
There is a nearby trail that ATVers use but they don't have a legal way to get into St. Peter's. The club would like to see the other trail connect with the Coastal Trail, which would offer riders the chance to fuel up, eat at local restaurants, and go shopping in St. Peter's.
That proposition is part of what piqued Richmond County council's interest.
The trail "is severely underutilized now and we'd like to see it become more inclusive and become an economic driver for the community," said Amanda Mombourquette, warden of Richmond County and the councillor who represents St. Peter's.
Mombourquette said she consulted with many of the business owners in St. Peter's and the overwhelming majority of them were supportive. Stone said he too has heard a lot of community support.
"We have the support of a lot of the community, most of the businesses in town have signed petitions, we have individual landowner letters that state they don't mind this trail going through."
But not everyone is on board, particularly the St. Peter's Community Club, which wants to see the trail used just for non-motorized traffic like walking and cycling.
"The main worry is the change of lifestyle most of us who live along the trail would endure, it's noise, pollution, the trail itself would undergo a massive reconstruction," said Clair Rankin with the St. Peter's Community Club.
Rankin believes the future is green and there should be more effort being put into supporting active transportation. He is also concerned about the noise pollution disturbing a campground in Battery Provincial Park.
"Sound travels pretty efficiently over water," he said.
The group also has the support of nearby Potlotek First Nation, which wrote a letter to the province supporting the community club's bid. Potlotek operates a site called Canal Landing at St. Peters Canal National Historic Site. There, the First Nation offers tourism experiences including taking people on the trail for nature walks and renting bicycles to visitors, who also often use them on the trail.
But Stone pointed to a trail in Inverness County as a gold standard for what a multi-use trail could look like. The Celtic Shores Coastal Trail allows ATVs, snowmobiles, bicycles, horseback riders, as well as hikers.
"It's a win-win situation for everybody," he said.
Both groups have applied to the province to take over management of the trail. Richmond County council has also sent a letter supporting the ATV riders club and requested the trail be designated for multi-use.
Although Mombourquette supports the riders club, she said a decision needs to be made soon and whichever group manages the trail will have to act fast to save parts of it from falling into the ocean.
"Right now it's really not being maintained and that is our primary goal," said Mombourquette. "We're in danger of losing it and that is the result of decades not working together toward a common vision."
Mombourquette said the final decision rests with the province.
The Department of Lands and Forestry declined to do an interview with CBC, but provided a statement by email.
A spokesperson said they are in the process of gathering information and "working with the applicants to prepare a planning process with the goal of identifying a community-based vision and sustainable trail development and management plan."
Mombourquette expects there will be community consultation moving forward.