By Alain Piché
Sentiers Chelsea Trails (SCT) was established in 2010 as a non-profit organization with a mandate to develop the non-motorized nature trail system in Chelsea. In a few short years, we have mapped and inventoried existing trails, trained SCT volunteers, built two new municipal trails, and planned several others. SCT has also led efforts to groom and maintain 16 km of the Chelsea railway corridor as a winter trail. We’ve also worked in partnership with the Municipality of Chelsea to complete the first phase of an Active Transport Master Plan.
The plan identifies key transportation corridors in Chelsea. Chelsea is 22 km long and 3 km wide, so north-south corridors are vital, but there are different needs for different user groups. Encouraging active transportation means addressing the pitiful condition of one of our ‘main streets’, Hwy 105. A safe Hwy 105 requires paved shoulders, appropriate signage, and traffic calming, which would result in an attractive facility for walkers, cycle commuters, and the growing number of road cycle tourists who visit the region. Quebec’s Route Verte network is one of the best cycle route systems in North America; joining the network offers the potential to access provincial grants to upgrade roads. Developing Hwy 105 as a safe cycling route would be a win-win for Chelsea and the region.
A second corridor identified in the Active Transportation Master Plan is the railway corridor. In Chelsea, it is owned by the municipality and leased to the Compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Outaouais (CCFO). The corridor has been largely neglected for decades and unused by the tourist train for the past three years. The estimated cost of putting the train back on the tracks continues to spiral upward – the latest estimates from the MTQ are in the $50 million range. It appears more and more evident that the train will not return. Local residents have provided overwhelmingly positive feedback and material support in favour of an accessible trail along the Chelsea section of the corridor.
SCT’s vision for the railway corridor is that of a community trail with an informal stone dust/gravel surface following the Gatineau River shore. It would provide a non-motorized trail link between New Chelsea, Tenaga, Gleneagle, Kirk’s Ferry, Larrimac, Burnett, Cascades, and Farm Point, and potentially all the way to Wakefield. It would be a dog-friendly zone, encouraging walkers, runners, recreational cyclists, and families with children to live actively and move safely around our community. It would provide an off-road link to community institutions such as the Cascades Club, the Larrimac Golf Club, and the Gatineau River Yacht Club and their summer camp programs.
Many questions remain and research is required, but we owe it to ourselves to look closely at the asset the Chelsea rail corridor represents for Chelsea and how it can best be used to build a healthy and active community.
Alain Piché is a founding member of and treasurer for Sentiers Chelsea Trails. For more info, visit http://sentierschelseatrails.wordpress.com