MNR issues apology to trail usersFriday, October 11, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
A large audience, consisting of trail users with questions and concerns regarding Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) plans for the Red Pine trail system, attended an MNR information session at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn Thursday evening.
The trail users who attended included people from the general public, people who reside near the Red Pine trail area, members of the Kinsmen Club, Sault Cycling Club and the Sault Finnish Nordic Ski Club.
Sault Ste. Marie MPP and Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti was in attendance, along with MNR Acting Director (Fish and Wildlife Branch) Michael O’Brien, Peterborough-based MNR Fish Culture Station Manager Kevin Loftus and several other MNR staff.
Strong concerns arose among trail-using stakeholders when it was learned the MNR planned to erect a fence on the 588-acre property to prohibit use of unauthorized but commonly used trails in the Red Pine area by mountain bikers, in order to ease MNR fears of erosion.
The MNR’s decision stemmed from concerns expressed in August by Tarentorus Fish Culture Station Manager Paul Vieira (the Tarentorous facility being one of several major provincial fish culture stations) that continued use of unauthorized trails in the area is causing erosion and pollution of the water used by the station.
Trail users objected, maintaining the MNR jumped to a hasty conclusion, with no public consultation, by deciding to erect fencing.
Considerable opposition led to Thursday’s information session.
The atmosphere at the session, very tense at first, eased into a spirit of cooperation after O’Brien apologized to the audience on behalf of the MNR.
The MNR has agreed to hold off with the fencing plan and look into other options, such as signage or a smaller fencing arrangement, to outline what trails may or may not be used in the Red Pine area.
Audience members were asked to fill out registration cards with contact information at the back of the auditorium, and will be asked to take part in an ongoing consultation process with the MNR.
That process will include proper, accurate mapping of the area and an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the area.
All of this, it is hoped by trail users and the MNR, will lead to a comprehensive agreement on which trails may or may not be used in the Red Pine trail area.
MNR staff repeatedly stated there are no plans to fence off authorized trails in the area.
O’Brien told SooToday.com: “We have to accurately map the trail system with the Cycling Club and the Kinsmen, we’re not closing any authorized trails or putting up a fence, and we’ll be seeking their input with the Environmental Assessment.”
“We’re going to work with interested stakeholders and look for a win-win situation for the fish station and the trail users.”
Orazietti addressed the audience, thanked everyone for their input, and, speaking to SooToday.com, said: “We will work out an agreement to build a completely authorized trail system that everyone can use and enjoy.”
Kinsmen Club member, area resident, cyclist and member of the Friends of the Red Pine Trails Group Scott Elgie was one of the people who stepped up to protest the MNR’s plans.
Speaking to SooToday.com after Thursday’s meeting, Elgie said: “We heard the MNR was going to shut all the trails down on the property. That’s what we first heard, and maybe that wasn’t the MNR’s intention, but there are a lot of people who enjoy using those authorized and unauthorized trails, and we wanted to make sure (the MNR closing down all the trails) wasn’t going to happen.”
“After hearing from the MNR tonight, now we’re really at a point where we can have dialogue.”
“This (a clear agreement on which trails may or may not be used) is something the Sault Cycling Club and the Kinsmen Club have wanted for years. We’re happy it’s coming to this and that we’re talking with the MNR.”
Elgie said Thursday’s meeting was a starting point for collaboration, whereby a comprehensive plan can be reached.
“There’ll have to be some give and take,” Elgie acknowledged, adding “some trails may have to close off and maybe we can compensate by adding new trails in different areas.”
“I’m confident an agreement and a plan can be made.”
Trail users have not been convinced the erosion concerns expressed by the fish station and the MNR are completely valid, and that fencing (estimated to cost the taxpayer at least $102,000, when only $60,000 was budgeted for fencing by the MNR) would only cause worse erosion.
Elgie told us: “If you put a 58-acre fence in the middle of a wild area it’s an eyesore, it’s expensive, it cuts down trees and disrupts animals.”
“In my opinion, cutting the trees down will cause more of an erosion problem than trail use, so we’re glad the fence is off the table.”
Area resident, trail user, and local writer Nadine Robinson, who has researched the issue thoroughly, told us: “The photos they (the MNR) showed tonight were photos taken nowhere near the sensitive areas of the trail.”
“Too many people have been saying ‘erosion might be an issue, tree cutting might be an issue,’ but now we don’t have to worry, because they’re going to move forward with an Environmental Assessment, so there won’t be any ‘might’ or ‘maybe’…(and) there’ll be no fence unless there’s a proven concern.”
Robinson told us: “Missteps were definitely taken by the MNR when the Kinsmen were told in August that all mountain biking was going to be stopped on unauthorized trails and that there was going to be a fence, even in non-sensitive areas.”
“That never should have been said,” Robinson stated.
However, Robinson said: “Our concerns have been alleviated tonight,” adding she felt trail users in attendance seemed satisfied with the MNR’s admission of a mistake and willingness to engage in discussions and drawing up of a comprehensive Red Pine trail plan.
“I think we all want to move forward. It seems like the pendulum has swung closer in line with the current Liberal government’s Cycle Ontario strategy,” Robinson said.