The message is clear: community trail is ‘community-focussed’
On Oct. 21, Nikki Mantell clearly articulated both the value and the challenges that the new community trail along the Gatineau River represents for Chelsea (Editorial, “Ready or not, here we come”). Our town is the gateway to Gatineau Park and attracts outdoor recreation enthusiasts. So, when news of a new, resurfaced trail along the river pops up, people want to come to check it out.
Now is the time to make the message clear that this trail is community focussed. It's a community asset providing a much-needed gathering place and safe off-road transit between neighbourhoods. While visitors are welcome, they need to know they are coming to Chelsea’s backyard, quite literally for some of our trailside residents.
For the last five years, we have all worked hard to promote the benefits of converting the abandoned railway line into a trail corridor to connect our spread-out community. We needed to raise political will, motivate supporters, attract funders and engage our neighbours. Through a large public consultation process, the municipality worked to refine the vision for the trail and establish a clear understanding of the kind of trail we did and did not want.
The message was clear. Residents wanted a safe, low speed, accessible place for young families, seniors, dog-walkers, skiers and cyclists to be able to connect between neighbourhoods, cycle to local services and to enjoy nature. They warned against a tourist corridor packed with visitors and pelotons of high-speed cyclists. The design, access to parking, placement of trailheads and surface of the trail were all chosen to manage visitor flow and satisfy community needs first.
But the trail isn’t finished. There is no permanent signage and traffic calming barriers, so we have installed temporary signage and barriers to carry us through to next spring when the trail will be officially opened. These usage-calming tools are just a step in the completion of the trail as we communicate with the public to educate them on the unique nature of this community trail experience. We will explain the limitations and boundaries of our trail and, through our code of conduct and trail users, develop a culture of mutual respect for all users and all ages and abilities.
Community consensus built around respect for all users and common courtesy will ensure we make good on our promise to deliver a trail that considers the needs of residents first and foremost.
Sandy Foote is president of Voie Verte Chelsea and Alain Piche is president of Sentier Chelsea Trails.