This is a picture of the dirt bike the MacNeils said they had to dodge on April 10 while walking on the St. Peter’s to River Tillard trail.

We were extremely disheartened, frustrated and confused to hear of the decision to recommend that the St. Peter’s-River Tillard trail be repurposed as a multi-use trail system.

Before we elaborate, we’d like to thank councillor Michael Diggdon for fighting for more information and voting against this motion when it was pushed through.

There are so many important aspects of maintaining this trail for active transportation only, but we will focus only on those points for which we would consider ourselves expert. These pertain to Scott’s position as a local family physician and we as parents of two small children, both with special needs, using this trail 52 weeks of the year, multiple times per week.

First, it is unacceptably dangerous for us to walk/run/sled/snowshoe on trails that are frequented by ATVs/dirt bikes/snowmobiles as our children see these as attractive and will unknowingly gravitate toward a potentially deadly situation.

In Scott’s work in the ER, the most common and often most serious injuries seen around here involve ATVs and dirt bikes. Often alcohol and/or other drugs are involved and it does not matter whether they were on well groomed trails with rules posted or not. If this change is made, the trail should be labeled as “motorized vehicles only” in the interest of public safety. And we caution against posting signs stating “use at your own risk” as this is just an indirect way of excluding those with special needs or mobility issues.

We are quite concerned for the beaches as well. If you look at what is already happening at Pondville beach, you’ll see that ATVs will not be staying just on the trail. It is rare that we go to that beach and find that there are no ATV tracks on the sand despite the appropriate trail being immediately adjacent. The dunes are being flattened and destroyed; it was not mother nature doing that.

This trail is one of the few green spaces that is accessible and safe for our children in Richmond County. Many of the other trails are officially or unofficially already taken over by motorized traffic. At the council meeting, it was brought up that people could simply walk at the adjacent Battery Park. We found this quite ignorant as those trails are much more suited to moderate intensity hiking and we would challenge anyone to take our children for a “walk” there.

In our opinion, maintaining this space for active transportation and inclusive access to this gorgeous beach that is a just few minutes’ walk for most of St. Peter’s residents would be of significant benefit to tourism, as well as physician recruitment. When medical learners come to the Arichat Clinic, they almost always ask about the best things to do in the area. We always list this trail as the go-to nature walk destination. We cannot imagine adding “but watch out for ATVs” and still market this as an alluring activity. We have yet to meet a medical learner who was not keen to explore the area by engaging in healthy outdoor activities. We wonder how much Port Hawkesbury’s beautiful, non-motorized trail system has contributed to their recent success in adding primary care providers.

If you only measure the value of the trail via profits for the local businesses (namely just the restaurants and liquor store), then you are completely missing the benefits to overall tourism. The physical fitness of your residents, as well as those visiting and the great mental health benefit for those who use this quiet, beautiful, natural green space, are also benefits.

We understand that there may be a grand plan for a canal-to-canal trail but that is not the current reality and so why would one consider taking away this walking trail now? We feel an extended trail system would indeed be a great development to strive toward, so do not assume that we are against such a trail. It was noted at the meeting that there “probably” isn’t another route to connect the trail in River Tillard into St. Peter’s when in reality there are options. These options would be more expensive but if it is so worth it to the business community then it should not be an issue to raise funds to proceed with one of those options.

We’d also like to mention what Terry Smith said at the April 12 meeting. He said it would be great to develop a proper multi-use trail system and we completely agree, however he first affirmed “…that tourism enhances the quality of life for our residents and never becomes something that has a negative impact.” This struck at our heart strings, especially as you each wore blue to visually show yourselves being aware of and supporting autism while the decision you recent made completely ignored those with autism and the greater special needs community. We strongly hope that the new accessibility committee will put in an actual effort to be aware of and support those with special needs.

In closing, this is an inclusive trail that everyone can access and enjoy year-round. If this is made into a multi-use trail, we implore you to just go ahead and call it a motorized vehicle only trail. Our family will never feel safe walking the trail, or going to that beach ever again and we imagine a lot of families are in the same predicament. We are disappointed and fearful of future council decisions if this is indicative of your true priorities.

We’ve attached a picture of the dirt bike we had to dodge on April 10. Please note the drainage system on the right and the rocky edge on the left, and point out where my family can stand when a series of quad ATVs passes through.

Dr. Scott and

Lindsey MacNeil

West Arichat