Bike trail meeting planned

In my last column, I brought to light the issue of the proposed Fish Hatchery fence that would close off some trail access at Hiawatha. It was widely reported in local media and on the CBC. David Orazietti, our MPP and the Ministry of Natural Resources, did not release specifics about the location or cost of the proposed fence, but he did promise a public meeting, which has now been announced for this Thursday at the Watertower Inn from 7-8:30pm.

Thanks to all of the media coverage, more of the facts of the matter have become clear, but there are still some questions:

Ӣ Size and location of proposed fence

What is still unknown is the exact location and size of the proposed fence. This information is supposed to be released at the meeting. Mike Purvis reported that “Orazietti said the area in question is around the Thayer Pond that feeds the hatchery with water, and represents less than 10% of the 588-acre MNR property.” But that’s still a fence enclosing potentially 58.8 acres.

Ӣ Proof of adverse affects on the fish hatchery

Purvis reported that “the ministry’s concern is that rogue tree cutting and use in the area is causing erosion and a ‘silting-in’ of the waters that feed the station, lowering the quality of the water and threatening the survival of the hatchery’s fish.”

I’ve biked and hiked most of the trails in the area, and have not seen trees cut down. I’ve seen already fallen trees that were crossing trails cut and pushed off the trails, as this helps to keep people on the actual trails and not creating new paths. And if tree cutting is a concern, surely cutting hundreds of trees for putting up a fence is not the answer?

As for the erosion, it has been proven in past studies that mountain biking on trails has the same impact as hiking. Also, anyone that has used the narrow single-track trails after the torrential rains knows that they were almost completely unaffected by the rains. There was, however, some marked erosion evident on some of the ski trails.

Ӣ What are the other more cost effective, less intrusive solutions?

If there is evidence of harm coming to the fish causally linked to the trail use, trail users would surely be happy to find ways to stop this. A fence is one solution, but there are cheaper alternatives to fencing that are also considered more effective. Signage is one such alternative that has been proven more effective than physical barriers. Signs are cheaper and less of an eye-sore as well.

Ӣ Have the negative aspects of the fence been considered?

Especially since it is on MNR property, why aren’t the other wildlife in the area being considered? The area around the fish hatchery is full of deer and bear among others. Have the alternative water sources, migration paths, and habitats been evaluated?

Ӣ Land-use permits: authorized & unauthorized trails

Purvis reported “Orazietti also said that contrary to some reports, the Kinsmen Club and Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club do have a year-round land use permit to operate trails on the MNR’s fish hatchery property, which does allow mountain bikes and other non-motorized use during the warmer months. …”None of those (authorized) trails used year-round for skiing, walking, hiking, biking will be impacted,” said Orazietti.”

Now semantics are important: authorized versus unauthorized trails. Ski trails are wide cleared trails that you could drive a car down (these are authorized). However, there is an elaborate trail system (currently unauthorized) of narrow single-track trails that are not currently covered by the land-use permit. They have been used for decades by bird-watchers, dog-walkers, hikers, bikers, and wildlife (many were game trails and continue to be used by the wildlife in the area).

Telling people to use the wide ski trails instead of the single-track trails is like replacing the small 4.25 inch diameter golf hole cups on golf courses with oil drums and thinking that it won’t affect peoples’ enjoyment of the game of golf.

Luckily Orazietti was reported as saying “It is not our intent to close the unauthorized trails.” However, until the land-use permit is revised to include the single-track trails, it is not safe to say that these trails won’t be on the chopping block in the future, considering the Fish Hatchery Manager has stated at a public meeting that he does want any mountain biking on MNR property.

With any luck, Orazietti will soon have a revised land-use permit to approve in front of him as he said to Purvis that “the MNR would welcome land use permit proposals for its property.”

Hopefully the meeting will be well attended at the Watertower Inn from 7-8:30pm on October 10 and with any luck, a fair resolution can be found that balances stakeholders’ concerns and tax payers dollars.

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