Since we love to hike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe you might imagine we would support the plans to put the Trans Canada Trail through our area. Yet the more meetings of our local “Development Association” we attended the more we came to realize that this was a trail which was being specifically designed for snowmobile use.
The committee in charge of the small section of trail in our community is due to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. So far at least $32,000 of this funding has come from the Off Highway Vehicle Infrastructure Fund.
They are using much of this money to design the trail specifically to be conducive to snowmobiles. This includes building a trail wide enough and bridges big enough to support a regular “groomer” who will go over the trail in the winter in order to make it more easily accessible to snowmobiles (and, coincidentally, to allow them to travel at much faster speeds).
Some sections of the trail are being routed onto disused public roads (K class roads). It is grimly ironic that, in the name of a community nature trail, these disused public roads are being repaired and outfitted with bridges big enough to support logging trucks and heavy equipment.
Contrast this with the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), which stretches from Georgia to Maine and is probably the most famous long distance hiking trail in the U.S. The A.T. is only arm’s width for much of its length and some of its brook crossings consist simply of stepping stones placed by thoughtful hikers or volunteers (sometimes there aren’t even these). Why is the A.T. so rugged and unrefined? Because, unlike the Trans Canada Trail, it’s meant to be a low-impact wilderness hiking trail, not a recreational vehicle trail.
The fact is that a trail designed for vehicles is going to be inhospitable and even dangerous for hikers, snowshoers, and skiers. According to the Ecology Action Centre, which supports a non motorized Trans Canada Trail, there is a “…growing body of evidence that a significant percentage of the population will avoid walking, hiking, biking, etc. on so called “shared use” trails where OHVs are driven…”.
On the other hand community infrastructure that supports and encourages “active transportation” (human powered) over vehicle travel helps to create healthier individuals, communities and environments. As we watch determined walkers and bikers huddled on the shoulders of our roads inhaling fumes and bracing themselves against on-coming traffic it’s not hard to see the missed potential of these current and proposed vehicle centered trails.
Recent studies have shown that, on average, rural Canadians have a shorter lifespan than their urban counterparts. It’s thought that one of the causes of this discrepancy is the sedentary, vehicle based lifestyle led by many rural Canadians. By designing another trail specifically for off highway vehicles and potentially alienating skiers, snowshoers, and hikers we are ultimately discouraging aerobic exercise in our community.
What about the effects on wildlife? What does the rare and elusive lynx that was in our area until recently do when snowmobiles are regularly tearing through its habitat at a deafening 100 kilometers an hour?
Instead of routing the trail entirely through the many thousands of acres of nearby Crown land in our area it is being laid out to border private property for much of its route in order to “bring it into the community”. The advocates of the trail are apparently unaware that high traffic, noisy OHV trails often decrease the property value of adjacent landowners. We fail to see any reason or lasting benefit from bringing a snowmobile trail into our community. In fact, a trail of this sort without full community support can be an imposition that infringes on the rights of others.
Another argument for not placing the trail further back on Crown land is that the Crown land doesn’t offer attractive views. Has no one considered that one of the reasons the private land offers more attractive views is that the private landowners have taken greater care of it and treated it more respectfully then the logging companies have treated the Crown land? As conscious stewards of our land why would we welcome a trail which will not only disrupt, devalue, and further fragment our remaining natural habitat but one which also promotes vehicle pollution?
The bottom line is that the Trans Canada Trail is not a greenway, it is not a nature trail, and it is not environmentally sound. In our area at least, it seems that it is a Trojan horse masquerading under the guise of a greenway when its true aim is to further the use of motorized recreational vehicles (or perhaps, in the case of the public road sections of the trail, to allow easier extraction of natural resources).
But in the end, as small family farmers, the issue goes even deeper than this for us. We’re disturbed by the tendency to see the land as simply either a place of recreation or commercial resource extraction. Land is life. It is where our food grows and our animals graze. It’s not, as Nova Scotia’s current license plate motto might have you think, just a “playground”. It is, quite literally, what sustains us.