By Richard Bell
The Department of Natural Resources’ decision to develop the abandoned railroad bed between Head of Chezzetcook and Musquodoboit Harbour (the Gaetz Brook Connector) as a non-motorized trail has stirred up opposition from some landowners abutting the trail, primarily along Pearson Drive in East Chezzetcook.
As we reported in May (“SATA Begins to Mobilize for Trail Building”), DNR had two applications before it asking for permission to begin the department’s 10-step rails-to-trails conversion process: one from the Shore Active Transportation Association (SATA) calling for an “active transportation,” non-motorized trail, and one from the Marine Riders ATV Club calling for a “shared use,” motorized trail.
DNR chose to ask SATA to begin the department’s 10-step rails-to-trails conversion process. In a letter authorizing SATA to start this process, DNR noted that ,“The information gathered through the public consultation process indicates strong public support exists for the use of the Crown Lands as a non-motorized trail.”
(Note: This start-up letter is not a Letter of Authority (LOA) authorizing SATA to actually begin construction of the trail. DNR will not issue such an LOA until the very end of the 10-step process, many months into the future. However, SATA does have a temporary LOA from DNR to do engineering and repair work on the deteriorating three bridges along the Gaetz Brook Connector. This bridgework LOA does not cover any trail development work.)
Fighting over access to trails by such off highway vehicles (OHV) as ATVs, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes has been going on for years across the province, with disagreements about health, child safety, accidents, air pollution, noise pollution, wildlife endangerment, and economic impacts.
But in this latest round, the disagreement is relatively simple: what happens when the province makes a decision in the name of the greater public good that has a direct impact on a small group of landowners?
“It’s just not fair,” says Chris Hughes, a long-time resident of Pearson Drive. “I’m not even an avid ATV rider. I’ve lived here for 62 years. I use the trail on my ATV to get up to my camp on Soul’s Lake. There are other families with camps on the lake that also uses the trail. My kids grew up there. I even floated an excavator up there so I could put in a lawn.”
Hughes has mobilized his neighbors to oppose DNR’s decision, and almost all the houses on Pearson Drive now sport signs reading, “Let’s Share….We All Pay Taxes,” with a stylized stick figure of a person and an ATV.
Public consultation is one of the 10 steps. On May 29th, SATA held two Open Houses on the proposed trail. SATA’s chair Patricia Richards emphasized that the decision to develop a non-motorized trail came from DNR and the Department of Community, Culture, and Heritage. “That was their decision, and their consultation process,” Richards said in an interview after the meeting.
Several people at the Open Houses said that they did not feel DNR had done a proper consultation before deciding on a non-motorized trail. According to Richards, “One thing that came out loud and clear at the Open Houses is the number of people who felt they were not properly consulted by DNR.”
Hughes said that he was lobbying hard to get DNR to reverse its decision and allow ATVs to use the proposed trail. He thanked Councillor David Hendsbee for his support. And he saw a spark of hope from news that the husband of the new minister of DNR, Margaret Miller, owns an ATV.
Richards acknowledged that, “Trail development in Nova Scotia can be convoluted and difficult. It’s expensive, and there are lots of pieces that have to come together. We’re going to proceed carefully and cautiously and respectfully.”