Park-to-Park asking for municipal support.
CONNECTING COMMUNITIES: Park-to-Park Trail Association general manager Peter Searle (left), past-president Steve Alcock and president Jack Tynan ask Huntsville town council to continue supporting the group’s trail system, which connects Killbear Provincial Park with Algonquin Park.
HUNTSVILLE – One group is asking the town to help the region cash in on recreational tourism.
The Park-to-Park Trail Association approached Huntsville town council and asked it to help maintain a 220 km trail that crosses 10 municipalities and links Killbear Provincial and Algonquin parks.
Steve Alcock, past-president of the association, told council that in 1997 Huntsville held a joint council meeting with the Town of Parry Sound and discussed how the two communities could strengthen their relationship.
“One of the things that was suggested was that we need to create more of an east-west linkage and perhaps we could find a way of strengthening, and putting in, a trail system, utilizing that to join the two communities,” said Alcock during a May 16 council meeting.
“Such a simple thing turned into such a long period of gestation and I would say that not only did the town talk the talk, but it walked the walk. Money from the very beginning came from Parry Sound and Huntsville, which strengthened existing trails and added new sections to what ultimately became a very ambitious project,” he said.
Alcock said volunteers had spent the last 14 years upgrading the trail and linking individual sections together.
More than $2 million in capital has been invested in the project, he said, including $600,000 spent on trail resurfacing.
Another $1.2 million was spent on bridges in the last six years, with about 25 of them having been replaced since 1997, said Alcock.
“The system that we inherited 15 years ago was at the end of its lifespan. It had been shut down at least twice by the Ministry of Natural Resources over safety concerns,” he said.
But with the help of individual, provincial and federal partners the trail has been successfully rebuilt, he said.
The association has three revenue sources, said Alcock, which include municipalities, trail pass sales and grants.
He said partners are needed to maintain the trail.
Peter Searle, general manager of the association, said without the association, the trail would deteriorate, since the Ministry of Natural Resources is not mandated to maintain it.
The loss of the trail would also mean the loss of about $17 million in snowmobile revenue and the inability to capitalize on increasing all-terrain vehicle activity, according to the association.
Alcock said the contribution by organized snowmobiling to Muskoka is about $50 million annually, according to economic impact studies, while increased all-terrain vehicle use could strengthen the year-round recreational tourism industry in the area.
The association is now working on a strategic plan with a focus on marketing and expanding the user base, he said.
It is also looking for new partnerships, he said, to support trail development in order to boost tourism.
And the municipality can help, he said.
“One of the successes of Park-to-Park is that we’re viewed as a regional system with a very strong municipal presence,” Alcock told council.
“There has always been a large number of municipal appointees on our board and because of that we’ve been able to access funds that are often not available to one group or another who are interested in trail activities.”
In the future, Alcock said, there are three things the association would like to see, including the re-instatement of a $10,000 grant the town used to provide to the association for its work.
He also asked that the town appoint a representative, possibly a council member, to the association’s board, and that the town consider allowing all-terrain vehicles more access to municipal roadways to facilitate trail use.
Several town committees, especially public works and protective services, have been discussing all-terrain vehicles and road access. Councillors say many of their constituents have been asking about expanded access and council is considering opening conversations on the subject.
Coun. Fran Coleman commented during the council meeting that using certain sections of municipal roads as linkages to trails may be an option.
Coun. Tim Withey focused more on bicycles using the Park-to-Park trail and asked how cycling would be balanced with increased all-terrain vehicle traffic.
Association president Jack Tynan, who has biked the entire trail with his son, said stakeholders such as abutting property owners have also raised concerns about increased traffic on the trail.
But he said he recognizes the all-terrain vehicle industry is growing and developing trail-use guidelines aimed at riders is the best approach.
Trail permits are another option, he said.
“ATVers are using any trail they can find, they’re causing damage to the trail, and we’re going to create a revenue through the ATVers to maintain those trails,” said Tynan. “They’re out there in growing numbers and we need to create revenue to off-set their impact.”
In response to Alcock’s grant request, Mayor Claude Doughty commented that the budget was set for the year, though there may be funding opportunities through the Huntsville-Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce, which partnered with the town for tourism revenue purposes.
He also said he would canvas for a potential association representative.