Richmond mulls support for St. Peter’s trails

ARICHAT: Municipal council was asked to back a plan from a community club to develop two trails in the St. Peter’s area.

During the regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on May 28, Michele Stone and Rob Groves of the St. Peter’s Community Club asked councillors to back a proposal to have one trial open for walkers, hikers and bikers, while at the same time, supporting the development of a separate ATV trail, also in St. Peter’s.

In 1988, Stone told council that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed to maintain an old rail bed as a trail to be used by the community.

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The club wants a 3.5 kilometre section, running from the former CNR Rail Station in St. Peter’s to River Tillard, designated as the St. Peter’s Coastal Trail and prohibit to Off Highway Vehicles or other mechanized vehicles.

Stone said this trail along the Atlantic Ocean has long meandering paths and stunning coastal vistas, with historical and natural features such as various species of birds and insects, a tidal cove, a river bank and Acadian forest. She noted that it has been used by schools as a natural classroom and can be attractive to tourists and visitors to Battery Provincial Park.

Stone said the trail is perfect for year-round activities such as walking, biking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing. The foundation of the trail is made of soft clay soil which suits the natural environment and is more comfortable for walkers, she said.

“We are lucky to have it in our community,” Stone said, calling the trail an asset to the village.

As was the case with the Cap Auguet Eco-Trail on Isle Madame, Stone said the club found an alternative route for ATVs, separate from the coastal trail, which also runs into St. Peter’s. Claiming that “pedestrians and motorists do not mix,” Stone said the two routes provide a win-win.

“We want this to be settled in our community,” Stone said of the division in the area between those who want the trail deemed multi-use, and those favouring two trails.

When asked by district 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher where this alternate route would travel, Stone explained it is a trail that was once used by ATVs. She said the club spoke with property owners all along the alternate trail, right up to River Tillard.

Fellow community club member Groves pointed to his experiences in Ontario – where land use agreements were obtained and clubs had to take out liability insurance and issue permits to users for revenue – as proof that such a proposal can work.

In response to concerns from Boucher that business owners in the St. Peter’s area are not in favour of the two trail solution, as well as the negative impact this could have on local business, Stone said business people do want ATVs to have access to St. Peter’s but don’t care which trail they use.

In addition to worries that two trails will drive ATV riders away from the village, Boucher noted that the municipality has only funded multi-use trails.

Groves responded that single-use trails are necessary in certain cases so as not to disadvantage any group of users, noting that finding common ground between groups is what’s important at this stage. He reasoned that the club’s proposal gets ATV clubs together with other users and can help the area become part of a province-wide trail system.

Richmond Warden Brian Marchand pointed out that in 2014, council sent a letter to the DNR supporting the trail as multi-use. The warden pointed out that it will be hard and expensive to have two trails, given the effort required to get contracts with landowners and the need to take-out insurance. He said that with one trail, there is limited liability.

District 1 councillor James Goyetche suggested the club get together with the DNR, the St. Peter’s Economic Development Organization and the St. Peter’s Village Commission to reach a consensus.

“As a municipal councillor, it’s not my responsibility to get involved,” Goyetche said, noting that council previously met with the DNR and he understood the problem was solved.

“Don’t put me in the position as municipal councillor to decide what’s best for St. Peter’s.”

Stone said the club spoke with the DNR and met with the local ATV club but were unable to reach an agreement so they sought this option.

Groves noted that the same amount of work is involved in maintaining two trails as there is for a single trail. Two trails provide more tourism opportunities and get groups working together, he said.

District 2 councillor Alvin Martell noted that if the club can work with ATV riders, their proposal can work. However if the community remains divided, it will be hard leveraging government funding.

Describing himself as a long-time ATV rider who has travelled on trails across the country and an advocate for a multi-use trail, Boucher echoed those sentiments that groups and individuals in the community are going to have to learn to trust each other.

“The more groups you have involved in the trail, the more you have to put into it,” Boucher said, recalling how he and other ATV riders used to groom the trail for walkers.

“Trust everybody first and then work with everybody. There’s money available to make everybody happy.”

Stone said the club wants the alternative ATV trail they are proposing to be included on the list of trails in the municipality.

CAO Kent MacIntyre said the municipality is in the process of assessing of all current trail systems in Richmond County to see what kind of shape they’re in and what repairs can be carried out. Since the alternative ATV route the club is proposing is an existing trail, MacIntyre said they will include it in their review.

During the 15 minute question period near the conclusion of the meeting, Ricky Stone and George Landry with the East Richmond ATV Riders Club questioned the alternative route.

Stone said ATV riders require a large trail head which the proposed trail does not have. He said that same trail is also very rough and will be very expensive to fix and maintain, responsibilities beyond the financial capabilities of his club.

Landry pointed out that even getting permission from some landowners to cross their properties is tricky. He said the club currently has agreements with some landowners to access their club house, but those property owners have the right to deny access to the ATVs at any time.

Since the municipality already supported the multi-use trail in 2014 and since the club met all the goals established by the DNR for the trail, like building bridges, Stone requested that the municipality support it as a multi-use trail.

Marchand responded that the municipality will continue with their trail assessment and consult with the affected groups before deciding how to proceed.

“For us, we just want whatever is going to be best to please the most people,” Marchand added.