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Trailblazers with a vision propose path along Cataraqui


On one of the hottest days of the summer, Edward and Mary Farrar and Kathy Horton are about to hike 4 km just to prove a point.

These trailblazers want to demonstrate that a continuous walking and cycling trail can be stitched together from the LaSalle Causeway to Kingston Mills, following the shoreline of the Cataraqui River.

"It seemed to me to be plausible to make a trail along the water," says Edward, stripping off his shirt before heading northward.

The Farrars have made this trek several times over the past two years, studying the terrain, noting the obstacles, finding out who owns the pieces of land that would have to be assembled to see their dream become reality.

"We have this vision of this wonderful connectedness that could happen," says Mary.

Waterfront trails have long been a contentious and frustrating issue in Kingston.

Successive councils have tried to reclaim the city's waterfront along Lake Ontario, piece by piece, to reclaim it for public use, but in many cases private ownership and towering buildings have permanently blocked the chance for a continuous trail, forcing walkers and cyclists onto streets until they can return to the water further along.

A trail hugging the Cataraqui River would also be an expensive project, with considerable technical and environmental challenges, but retirees with dreams can be formidable lobbyists. The issue will come before city councillors Tuesday evening to seek approval to determine a trail route and estimate the costs.

"This is our forgotten water," Kathy Horton says of the Cataraqui shoreline. "We need this. There aren't any good long sections of walking in the city except along the streets."

The four of us set out from the ministry of health building, walking through the parking lot to Wellington Street where we pass the drydock and marina.

Then we're into Fluhrer Park, where a paved trail hugs the Cataraqui for about 200 metres. It connects with a rougher trail on the Woolen Mill property that meanders around to the rowing club property.

It's here we hit the would-be trail's first major obstacle: the chain-link fence that surrounds the municipal sewage pumping station. The fence goes to the river's edge. The Farrars and Horton would like to see it moved back several metres to allow the trail to pass through.

The Farrars spent three decades living in the country near Inverary.

"Two years ago, the dog died and the kids had gone and we found it was useless mowing two acres of lawn," recalls Edward.

They moved to a Place d'Armes condominium, close to the amenities they needed to simplify their lifestyle.

"We decided using your car is useless in town. You use bicycles," he said.

They joined the Old Farts Cycling Club, going for 35-km jaunts each week in the country.

"Then we began to realize what a trail system Kingston already had, but it's all in the boonies," says Edward. "We thought, 'Why couldn't we make a route on the west side of the Cataraqui River basin?' "

Walking around the pumping station property along Orchard Street, we turn down River Street and follow another chainlink fence that goes to the Cataraqui.

We are about to enter the Davis Tannery property. This is a heavily contaminated site, but prime real estate and owned by a local development company.

The city would not be able to request waterfront trail space from the developer until formal plans were submitted. Until then, it is inaccessible.

An extensive trail system already exists here, beaten down by the people Mary refers to as "hobos." Along the way we see signs of occasional habitation -- abandoned shopping carts, old duffle bags and firepits.

After a couple of hundred metres, the shoreline opens up and we stop on a small strip of land overlooking a cattail marsh.

Across the marsh, about 100 metres away, is Belle Park golf course. Edward says they would like to see a boardwalk installed, connecting the two properties.

Because this is a dead end, we have to backtrack to River Street and walk out to Rideau Street where, at the northeast corner, we pick up the abandoned railway bed that once carried trains into Kingston and right in front
of City Hall. The city owns the bed.

Councillor Vicki Schmolka is one of the most active trails supporters at City Hall. For three summers, she has cycled from Niagara to the Quebec border along Lake Ontario, passing through Kingston along the way.

"People don't realize there are some great trails here," she says.

She admits that connecting Kingston's waterfront trails has been a challenge, though progress was made earlier this decade.

"They're still coming together, but there is a recognition we should be doing this," says Schmolka.

She supports the Farrars' initiative and wants city hall to play a role.

"It should be a city facility," says Schmolka. "What a nice experience to get a bike downtown and ride to Kingston Mills and back."

We arrive at the edge of Belle Park at noon, where hundreds of poplar trees have been planted to help soak up the pollution seeping from the garbage dump beneath our feet. The entire municipal golf course is a former city landfill site created in the river that is both a recreational oasis and an environmental nightmare.

We come across Pat MacLeod, who is walking his dogs, Jaz and Jewels. MacLeod grew up in the neighbourhood and usually takes early-morning and evening walks here.

"It's usually pretty quiet with just the birds and deer and wildlife," he says.

MacLeod likes the idea of a formal trail system cutting through the area.

"I don't understand why it ends there at the Woolen Mill," he says. "I see a lot of people on the weekends who come and walk here."

We leave MacLeod and his dogs and arrive at the golf course parking lot.

The Farrars point out that there are two ways to run the trail from here: through the golf course property, going around the tennis courts, or along another section of the old railway bed that is privately owned. The city, they say, could easily purchase the property.

Either way, the trail ends at a small stream, trickling through the bottom of a fairly steep ravine. On the other side is the Village on the River apartment complex.

A bridge would be needed to span this gap. The Farrars have gotten an estimate for $7,000 for a bridge; city officials say it would cost $80,000 in order to handle the heavy urban cycling and pedestrian traffic and reduce liability.

On the river side of the apartment buildings, the city owns a section of paved trail that takes us to the intersection of Montreal Street and John Counter Boulevard.

There is a marina at the bottom of Counter at the river's edge. Above is the new Stirlingbridge townhouse development.

This is where the proposed bridge over the Cataraqui would span to Pittsburgh.

The city is in the process of completing the K&P Trail, which will extend from Sydenham Road at Hwy. 401 all the way down to the intersection of John Counter Boulevard and Division Street.

It would be an easy link to make with the Cataraqui River trail.

"It's a wonderful citizen initiative," says Councillor Rob Hutchison, who represents King's Town district, where the southern part of the proposed trail would be. Hutchison sees great potential for commuters, as well as recreational cyclists to use the trail.

The Farrars have scouted several places where walkers and cyclists could access it from Montreal and Rideau streets.

"The value is it enhances the city in terms of active transportation alternatives. In other places, these trails are used for work purposes. It takes pressure off the road system," Hutchison says.

Neal Unsworth, the city's manager in charge of parks, says Kingston is second only to Victoria, B.C., in terms of commuter cycling.

"It has to do with the geography -- a relatively flat geography and a compact urban core," says Unsworth.

He says the intersection of Montreal and John Counter will eventually become a cycling hub for riders coming across the bridge from the east and along Counter from the west.

"There will be a critical mass of people commuting back and forth across the city along Counter," says Unsworth.

He believes most hard-core commuting cyclists will stick to the streets that offer more direct routes between home and work, but he agrees some will occasionally take the more scenic route.

"A well-developed urban trail does have a commuting function," he says.

We cross John Counter Boulevard and enter the Stirlingbridge townhouse development. Along the water, below the busy construction zone, is a stretch of city-owned property.

One section of the property is slated to be transformed into a small city park.

The future of the other section is up in the air since the discovery of an ancient fishing village. It is now the subject of a First Nations land claim and no development can be contemplated there until the claim is settled.

It is also the only possible route to extend the trail northward.

To the north of the Stirlingbridge property we come to the main railway line.

This will be the most problematic section.

The rail bed isn't wide enough to accommodate both the tracks and a trail.

So the Farrars are suggesting a trail bed that would run parallel to the rail bed, requiring fill and crushed stone to be dumped along the entire stretch of the swamp to Kingston Mills.

They recognize the environmental concerns this will raise but insist that the best way to experience the natural surroundings is to take this route.

Much of the swamp is under the control of Parks Canada and portions of it are privately owned north of Hwy. 401.

Looking at an overhead map of the area, Unsworth points to an escarpment running along the west side of the railway line.

The land is privately owned and some day will be developed for housing. It would be possible, he says, to cut the trail along the edge of the bluff, offering a panoramic view of the Cataraqui River and marsh.

Of course, that would mean taking a detour at John Counter Boulevard and running the trail along Montreal Street.

Eventually, the city would like to see a continuous trail that runs from the LaSalle Causeway and loops through Kingston Mills then down Hwy. 15 and back to the causeway.

A new bridge over the Cataraqui would offer a shorter route for recreation cyclists, walkers and commuters.

"The section to Kingston Mills might be harder to accomplish," says Schmolka of the Farrars' concept.

She is proposing that when construction begins to widen Hwy. 401 to three lanes, the Montreal Street overpass could also be widened to include bike lanes connecting with Kingston Mills Road.

"It takes you away from the water but gets you safely north of Hwy. 401," she says. "Let's plan it now before the Hwy. 401 work is finished."

Hutchison says the marsh route would be "costly" but he's willing to let staff explore that possibility.

"It's highly desirable, but there are other issues, including private land ownership, and there are certain places we'd have to put in a bridge.

"We can do those things in time, but it's better when you look at it as an overall strategy of trails," he says

Unsworth says the Farrars have earned themselves a place at the table when city staff sit down in the new year to determine the best trail route, as well as to estimate costs and construction timelines.

"They have done a lot of research into how we can get a waterfront trail up the Cataraqui," he says. "It's a wonderful initiative and I think a lot of it can happen."


Article ID# 2743507

( Topic last updated: 2010.09.04 03:29:30 PM )