Multi-use for the PPJ? Surprise presentation at MRC plenary

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Allyson Beauregard and Lynne Lavery


Allyson Beauregard and Lynne Lavery

CAMPBELL’S BAY – Mayor of Thorne, Terry Murdock, surprised the MRC’s Council of Mayors on Tuesday, September 13th, when he invited Cindy Cassidy, Manager of the Eastern Ontario Trials Alliance (EOTA), Terry Vaudry from the Renfrew County ATV Club, the media, the president of Club Quad Pontiac, and other supporters to the regular plenary meeting, held at the MRC building. Plenary meetings are typically not open to the public or media, due to the nature of their discussions.
Every mayor but two – Mr. Murdock and Mr. Stewart from Campbell’s Bay – voted to keep the plenary closed to the media and public for the unexpected presentation, but Cassidy agreed to give it again at the Campbell’s Bay RA Hall for the media and the public.
Cassidy was invited by Mr. Murdock to explain how their “multi-use trail network” started and how it operates.
The non-profit EOTA, founded in 1998, manages 2,400 km of multi-use trails connecting 24 municipalities; it was formed in collaboration with municipalities,
user groups, businesses, tourism associations, and land-owners following 15 public consultations.
Each municipality owns its section of trail, while the EOTA manages it. Renfrew’s Vaudry stressed that cooperation is essential: “Everyone had to be on board from the beginning and work hand in hand to create this. Otherwise it is not affordable, or workable.”
Public funding essential: $8 million so far
While Pontiac Quad Club President Pat Amyotte claimed his Club could maintain a similar trail, Cassidy stated that it’s not enough. In addition
to its user-pay system, the Ontario organization requires municipal, provincial, and federal funding and has over 52 business partners. Annual maintenance costs are $404 per kilometre – not including snow grooming ­– and since its beginning, maintaining and developing the trail network has cost about
$8 million. The trail itself is 16 feet wide, minimum, and reaches up to 24 feet in some areas. EOTA trail pass sales brought in $192,000 last year.
The Ontario groups have a special OPP team (the Snowmobile ATV Vessel Enforcement Team) which patrols the trails and enforce the rules.
Cassidy claims that since its establishment there has not been a single accident between ATVs and cyclists or hikers; she added that noise, dust, and damage to trail surfaces have also not been a problem.
ATV president Vaudry believes the MRC Pontiac holds an advantage since
it already owns the PPJ trail and its corridor. “The tourism potential is huge,” he added, referencing, for example, a bridge between Portage-du-Fort and Ontario for snowmobiles and ATVs.
Not invited to the presentation
Remo Pasteris, spokesperson for the Green PPJ Verte group working to promote and preserve the PPJ cyclopark for cyclists and hikers, commented, “We respected the fact that plenary meetings are closed meetings. Mr. Murdock did not inform
us that the presentation would be made publicly at the RA, despite the fact that the PPJ Verte has two seats on the ATV committee. It may have been a last-minute decision to hold the public session, but no effort was made to give us the opportunity to attend. The president of Club Quad was present … why was he informed of this meeting and we weren’t? 
Pasteris added, “It’s very important that you compare apples to apples. The Ontario trail system is a user-pay system—here in the Pontiac, where we are financially struggling, do you want the public to pay a fee every time they use the PPJ?
“There is also the issue of the trail’s width. The EOTA has trails up to 24 feet wide—this is impossible on the PPJ. And who is going to police the users here, when the SQ does not have the resources? Where will the money come
from for trail maintenance once we lose our provincial funding for the Route Verte? Trail passes won’t be enough. These are only a few questions we would’ve raised if we had been given the opportunity.
 “If the Club Quad have the funds to widen their present trails to make them genuinely multi-user and want to implement other fees for users like the EOTA do, then that’s their decision. We stand by MRC Pontiac’s original commitment that the PPJ Cyclopark should be maintained for cyclists and hikers in the summer months and snowmobilers in the winter,” he concluded.
Poor governance here, says Murdock
The Thorne Mayor and Chair of the ATV Committee again referenced a survey taken across the Pontiac earlier this summer; the majority of respondents indicated support for expanding the areas where ATVs can travel. “The reason the Pontiac is so poor is because of the governance. If you don’t listen to the taxpayers, you are out of touch,” Murdock concluded. The PPJ Route Verte group also supports expanding trails to attract tourists, “but not to grab the single trail that hikers and cyclists now have.
The Pontiac has room for more trails.”