By Arnold Hughes and Donnie Lushington
[Editor's Note: This document is the full text of Hughes and Lushington's "An Open Letter to Our Local Communities." The Cooperator has a 600-word limit on stories, so we published an edited version of this letter in the December 2019 issue of the paper.]
Upgrading of The Gaetz Brook Greenway Trail is nearing its final stages and SATA will be soon seeking a LOA to allow it to restrict access to all but human powered recreation. The stakeholders in this trail issue far out number the SATA membership yet are being ignored by government.
SATA has existed for several years and consists of a small but determined group of individuals that are intent on imposing a very narrow concept of recreational trail use on our community.
At their last annual general meeting, SATA announced that membership in their society had been frozen and would remain so until it's by-laws have been revised. At a special meeting on the July 31, 2019, these by-law changes were adopted by the membership present.
Now that these changes have been adopted, SATA trails society are welcoming new members into it's fold, at an annual fee of $5.
Many of you have concluded that when SATA Trails Society re-opened it's membership it would require, that if you are to be you accepted you must be in agreement with SATA's trail use policy which excludes all but self-propelled human powered recreation. It has in fact done so and is requiring new applicants to indicate that they agree with Sata’s active transportation trail use policy as a condition of acceptance.
I joined as a member of SATA in the spring of 2017 and at the time I met with the SATA co-chairs and made it clear to them where my feelings on trail use lay; that is that the multi-use model as it exists in other areas of our province should also apply to rail-bed trails here in the rural areas HRM.
This being the case I was nonetheless welcomed as a member. There is one other SATA member Donnie Lushington who thinks as I do, that I know of and we would hope that there are other, currently silent members, who hold similar thoughts that will come forth in opposition to SATA's narrow trail use policy.
We had hoped that their welcoming attitude to us would have also been extended to new members. After all “AT and Multi-Users” only disagree on one point “Sharing.”
We would suggest that as stake holders, residents, trail-abutting land owners, OHV enthusiasts and tax payers within our communities, that you should be welcomed into the group regardless and that your opinions on trail use should be listened to.
Based on attendance at the recent AGM and special by-law meetings; approx. twenty-five individuals represent the core voting block although we have been provided with the total number of voting members as seventy-eight. Seventy-eight seems a low number for a group to be issued with a LOA to oversee multi million dollar projects and also set the rules of use for an entire community of rural stake holders the majority of which do not support a restrictive trail use policy. The current SATA executive does not make it easy for its members to put ideas forward. First restricting membership, offering little opportunity for membership input at meetings, which are less than two annually and by making all its decisions internally at the executive level.
It is blatantly obvious that our current provincial government and HRM are hellbent on ramming down the throats of rural citizens, an urban-centred policy of recreational trail use that flies in the face of decades of inclusiveness and cooperative use of our abandoned rail beds by a community of trail enthusiasts that have and continue to contribute a significant portion of their tax dollars, which are being used to up-grade and maintain our rail-bed trails.
SATA has finally opened its group to new members under condition that new members agree with the following:
“I agree with the objectives of the Society to develop, construct, maintain and promote the development of non-motorized active transportation trails in the Porters Lake and surrounding communities in order to facilitate safe self- propelled human powered recreation and travel in our communities. I agree with the objectives:”
In its own Memorandum of Association SATA does not specifically state that other forms of access and use of trails, apart from “self propelled human powered”, are the only forms of transportation that could be permitted on the trails. So one would think that other means of transport would not be out of the question should SATA's membership decide to adopt a more inclusive attitude.
In consideration that The Department of Lands and Forestry requires it's rail bed trails to be developed to OHV standards and also has indicated that the issuance of LOA's do not require that rail bed trails must be restricted to human powered transportation only. The requirement that new SATA members agree to a non motorized condition before their applications are accepted seems a bit draconian.
Whereas SATA is a publicly funded organization purporting to exist for the betterment of our local communities it seems inconsistent that they would want to shut their doors to the very communities they claim to represent.
There are many tax paying stakeholders of these recreational trails that feel banning OHV's and equestrians from using the trails, to be grossly unfair. Based on principle alone the idea of excluding users that pay for the trail through taxation yet are not being allowed to use the trail does not seem to align with Canada’s inclusion for all direction.
To spend millions of dollars on current and future rail bed projects here in our rural communities would seem like a tremendous waste if restricted to only those who walk of cycle; not to mention the lost economic benefits to our communities. We would like to applaud SATA for seeking to create a trail for users that prefer a non motorized use trail. If SATA would have chosen to create a new trail, one not currently being used by many existing user groups than this project could have had 100% community buy in. However very little consideration has been given or offered to existing users, users that have grown up using and maintaining the rail bed without any public money. These users are now expected to go quietly away and find another trail to use. Because SATA has chosen to displace many long term users; this issue has divided the community and created an atmosphere of distrust among neighbours.
To attempt to impose an urban mindset onto our rural communities and expect us to help pay for it is beyond ridiculous it is insulting.
We are two members of SATA who disagree with it's attitude of exclusion yet believes in the virtue of having a recreational trail system as being an asset to our communities; one that includes all.
We believe that if you think as we do, one way to soften hardened hearts is to apply for membership in SATA [https://satatrails.ca/wp/join/] to hopefully change it's restrictive policy before it's government handlers issues the final LOA closing the trail to all but walkers and cyclists. Even if trail restriction occurs, this will not mean that the fight is over. If your applications are rejected by SATA they will add weight to our cause when protesting to government.
Take heart that a provincial election is looming and that anything that is done can be undone. In the meantime let your voices be heard by those who are there to represent you.