August 26, 2015

Credit Valley Trail plan gets a burst of energy

As published in Country Routes

After decades of trekking over rough terrain, advocates for a continuous network of trails to connect Orangeville, Caledon and Erin with Lake Ontario are seeing a light at the end of their journey.

The Credit Valley Heritage Society (CVHS) has brought together a consortium of local volunteers and municipal officials to help Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) finish off a footpath concept that has been part of its mandate for 60 years.

More than two thirds of the trails network already exists in various communities, and now tentative preferred routes have been mapped out for linking them together. The Credit Valley Trail will become the main thread in a tapestry of trails throughout the watershed.

It will bring together nature appreciation, fitness, environmental protection, historical awareness and the economic benefits of establishing a brand to attract visitors. Sections of the network will also be suitable for bicycles, horses, strollers, wheelchairs and snowmobiles.

A preliminary overview of the Credit Valley Trail, created by CVC.
The final route has not been determined in some areas.

CVHS is an agency under the Ontario Historical Society, which has advocated for preservation of the Barber Mill on the Credit River near Georgetown. In 2012 they expanded their vision to the whole watershed.

“If we could find a way to promote the cultural and natural resources of the river together, then we could advocate for the conservation and preservation collectively – this is when the vision for a Heritage Tourism Trail was born,” said CVHS Acting Executive Director Susan Robertson, at a meeting of 45 participants at the Alton Mill.

Susan Robertson
“We’re promoting an ethic of care, and in terms of quality of life, this concept promotes sustainable transportation, getting people out of their cars, giving people an alternative – connecting nature with culture and recreation.”

The project is similar to other history-themed routes such as the Shared Path along the Humber River in Toronto and the Laura Secord Legacy Trail from Queenston to Thorold, which focus on “history hidden in the landscape”. Robertson expects the Credit River Trail to be the largest of its kind in Canada.

Deborah Martin-Downs, Chief Administrative Officer at CVC, praised the successful efforts of the Friends of Island Lake. With CVC and other partners in the Orangeville area, they raised funds and built the Vicki Barron Trail. It includes major sections of boardwalk and is designed to link with other trails.

“If Orangeville can do this, we can do the rest. We can tackle the rest of the watershed easily,” she said. “The idea of the Credit Valley Trail is not a new one, and the early pioneers and the First Nations would tell you that they’ve already been there and done that.”

An Orangeville to Port Credit route was envisioned at the founding of CVC in 1954, as a series of public footpaths linking conservation areas, but Martin-Downs said it has lacked a champion and funding.

“I think now is the right time. In two years it is Canada’s 150th birthday, and what is more Canadian than a trail that connects our natural and cultural history?”

A trail in the Grange area near Alton,
where Shaw's Creek joins the Credit.
A variety of existing trails running roughly east and west would intersect with the Credit Valley Trail and serve as a network of side trails. The Grand River Trail runs west out of Alton, while the Elora Cataract Trailway links Hillsburgh and Erin, continuing east into Caledon as part of the Trans-Canada Trail.

In the Terra Cotta area and points south, there are intersections with the Bruce Trail, the Caledon Trailway and the Greenbelt Cycling Route. In Georgetown, the trails in Hungry Hollow are expected to be linked with Willow Park (where Silver Creek meets the Credit in Norval) and with the Guelph Radial rail trail coming in through Acton and Limehouse.

Dave Beaton, Manager of Community Outreach for CVC, said there has been major progress in acquiring land along the river, especially more than 400 acres for the Upper Credit Conservation Area near Alton.

Dave Beaton
“The biggest bang for our buck is having nature interpretation and cultural heritage information along the trail system,” said Beaton, noting the connection between mills and the river. “We’re connecting the tree huggers with the heritage huggers. It’s a very natural fit. Tourism is a major draw, so we can be spinning this into a lot of economic benefits.”

He said outdoor activities are “integral to our well-being and integral to a sense of magic”, and that the project will “help fend off the crisis of nature-deficit disorder that seems to be plaguing this world.”

With help from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, CVHS has formed a steering committee to create a Master Heritage Trail Plan. Future projects will include signage, ensuring safety and protecting historical sites, but the current challenge is the fact that sections of possible trail are on privately-owned lands.

“There has been a groundswell of community interest,” said Eric Baldin, Senior Lands Planner at CVC, who deals with property owners. “The ultimate goal of completing the links is very, very achievable.”

Trail plans for the Upper Watershed - Orangeville, Erin and Caledon areas.
CVC has put the project into its new strategic plan as a way to celebrate shared local history and create an emotional connection to the river valley. The trail will create destinations as part of a tourism strategy, provide “access to nature’s art gallery” and create an active transportation corridor.

Towns and cities within the watershed are including trails in their plans for infrastructure and economic growth, and the province has identified waterways as Ontario’s number one tourism asset.

Like the river, the Credit Valley Trail has major tributaries including the Caledon Trailway (Terra Cotta-Caledon East-Palgrave), the Elora Cataract Trailway (Forks of the Credit-Erin-Hillsburgh) and the Radial Line Trail (Limehouse-Guelph), all former railroad routes, as well as the Humber Valley Heritage Trail that leads to Bolton.

It also intersects with the Bruce Trail, which covers the length of the Niagara Escarpment, the Grand Valley Trail that runs from Alton to Lake Erie and the Trans Canada Trail – the world’s longest recreational network with 23,000 km of trails connecting all three of Canada’s ocean coasts.

“One of the key goals is to connect communities with nature, and promote environmental awareness, appreciation and action,” said Martin-Downs. “We believe that the most powerful force for environmental protection is an informed and mobilized community. Connecting people with nature is the first step in demonstrating how a thriving environment is vital for health, safety and well-being.”

Trail plans for the Middle Watershed - Terra Cotta, Glen Williams,
Acton, Limehouse and Georgetown areas.