By Richard Bell
The Nova Scotia Share Our Trails Association (NSSOTA) took a major organizational step forward at a meeting on May 22 at the Lake and Shore Community Centre in Porters Lake. An overflow crowd of more than 200 people heard from the leadership of NSSOTA, as well as from HRM Councillor David Hendsbee, MLA Kevin Murphy, and MLA Barbara Adams.
The organizers of the group, which became a registered society on March 12, 2019, came together to fight to preserve ATV access to trails across the province, with a special focus on trails within HRM.
In his opening remarks to the crowd, NSSOTA’s Peter Debellefuille explained that “NSSOA was basically formed by like-minded people who felt that our trail corridor work, especially within the HRM area, was taken over and being controlled by associations that didn’t support mixed use trails. We formed this association to see if we could make that change.” Debellefuille said that NSSOTA favoured trails open to all users, motorized, non-motorized, and horses.
The group was particularly upset about the decision by the Department of Natural Resources to give a Letter of Authority to the Shore Active Transportation Association to develop a section of the old rail bed running through Gaetz Brook as a non-motorized trail. Under provincial law, DNR can grant LOAs to local groups that have demonstrated to DNR’s satisfaction that a group can raise the necessary funds and then manage the maintenance of a section of trail.
And while HRM had nothing to do with DNR’s granting of SATA’s LOA, HRM has adopted a policy of only funding the awkward and confusingly labeled “active transportation” trails, trails that are closed to motorized vehicles. (Trails that allow ATVS along with walking and biking are called “mixed use” trails.)
Debellefuille warned that he was concerned that “certain members of HRM” were pushing for other municipalities to create a province-wide push for non-motorized trails. “If this doesn’t come to a stop,” he said, and HRM can influence other municipalities, it’s going to happen.” He then mentioned efforts to ban motorized vehicles from trails where they are now allowed in Eastern Passage and St. Margaret’s Bay.
Debellefuille acknowledged that ATV owners had not been paying as much attention as they might: “I think what has happened in the past is, a lot of us didn’t know what was happening, and we were kind of kept in the dark, until certain things were put in place, until we find out that things we used to be able to do are taken away from us, and now that we’re finding that out, it’s awfully hard to change it back to the way it was.”
David Hendsbee, who has long been a supporter of “mixed use” trails, said that HRM was in the process of reviewing its recreational trails policies, and he was pushing hard to change all HRM trails to mixed use. The city would be holding public consultations this summer, and Hendsbee encouraged ATV owners to participate.
Debellefuille said that he had been looking into the possibility that the new Nova Scotia Accessibility Act (NSAA) could be used to turn trails now designed as “active transportation” trails into “mixed use” trails. In his view, the province was “in total contraction to the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act” when associations managing trails were given LOAs for “active transportation” trails.
In terms of next steps, Debellefuille urged people to sign a petition to be presented to the General Assembly. MLA Barbara Adams took the floor and urged everyone to email every single MLA. “When I get 200 emails coming through on one issue,” Adams said, “I play a huge amount of attention.” Adams said she supported a proposal for the province to standardize the rules for trail access.
Summing up the evening, Debellefuille said, “It’s unfortunate that we find out about associations taking away recreational activities from residents of a community after the fact, because a lot of meetings are held without a lot of notice.” He promised that NSSOTA would have representatives at future meetings of the various governmental bodies and local associations that determined ATV trail access, starting with SATA’s upcoming Annual General Meeting in Muquodoboit Harbour at 9 AM on May 27.