Reproduced with permission - The Toronto Star Syndicate
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A group from the Waterfront Regeneration Trust is cycling the full length of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail. Star reporter Kate Harries is tagging along.
And if you noticed that the driver was Councillor Kay Manderville, well, you live here, so you understood that Manderville was on one of her crazy crusades again.
Still, as the golf cart careered the wrong way down Moira St. E., with Manderville looking for a place to jump the curb so she could get back on the Parrot Riverfront trail, I covered my eyes and considered a career change to something safer than newspaper reporting - high-rise window washing, perhaps.
And as the police car pulled up to escort us across the Dundas St. bridge, I realized that this is a city where impossible ideas are seriously entertained and even implemented.
Take the idea of putting a trail through the centre of the city. Not only were there two dozen private property owners along the river to contend with, but also the protective instincts of half a dozen government agencies whose approval is needed for any water's edge changes.
There's quite the buzz in this corner of Eastern Ontario about how Belleville pulled it off and turned its downtown around, as we discovered when we cycled last weekend from Wicklow Beach, west of Colborne.
This is part of an end-to-end trip along the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail that has been a summer-long project for Vicki Barron and Marlaine Koehler of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and me.
We started in Niagara-on-the-Lake in May and have taken one weekend a month to get this far. In October, we hit Gananoque, 60 km farther than the trail's present official limit but, hey, Barron - who is the trust's executive director - has an empire to build and fantasizes about planting the waterfront trail's distinctive bird-leaf-fish signs all the way to the Quebec border.
As we rolled through Trenton earlier in the day, Quinte West waterfront trail committee member Vince Graham showed us the elements of a trail system he's hoping to see linked up and spoke enviously of how Belleville had got its act together.
And in Prince Edward County, cycling maven Katy Misner, owner of the Bloomfield Bicycle Company, paused during a spirited denunciation of the condition of the local"rail trail" (surfaced with large-size gravel, an uncomfortable ride for cyclists) to hail the sterling example set by Belleville.
"I'm from Belleville," Misner said. "Belleville - Belleville! - as something to be proud of. Why not here?"
To understand what has happened in Belleville, imagine a faded old dress turned inside out. The seams are showing, but the pattern on the reverse of the fabric is bright and a new range of possibilities has opened up.
That's the way the new 2.6-kilometre riverfront trail - inaugurated in July - has turned the Moira River, which runs through the centre of the city, into a destination rather than a place to throw garbage.
But it wasn't easy. "It was a nightmare," Manderville said cheerfully, steering around the walkers, cyclists, bladers, wheelchair users and dogs who were enjoying an unseasonably balmy mid-September evening. She had chosen our unusual mode of transportation so she could navigate the trail while explaining its finer features to a captive audience.
"What we want now is for the stores to start cleaning up their backyards," she said, waving a hand at the uninviting and now-exposed parking lots behind the Front St. businesses.
At first, she said, few people bought into the vision of a trail through the downtown. The route, along the eastern shore of the Moira, raised myriad concerns from the department of fisheries and oceans, the Ontario ministries of the environment and natural resources and the conservation authority.
"They continually closed us down. We had to have meetings with the heads of MoE, MNR and Fisheries all the time because the people under them would not co-operate at all."
And then there were the negotiations with 23 businesses and private owners who were asked to give up their land and riparian (riverbank) rights. "If even one of them had said no, it wouldn't have happened," said parks and recreation director Doug Moses. "We said to them we could not afford to buy their properties. They got a tax receipt."
In the end, the idea took off. More than $1 million was raised from the community, with local benefactors Jack and Bernice Parrot kicking in an additional $450,000 to meet the local fundraising target.
A pedestrian bridge, with a narrow "fishing lane" for anglers, was built in pre-cast sections and erected by Pre-Con Inc., a concrete manufacturer with a plant in Belleville. All materials and labour were donated by the company and its 70 local employees, making the cost of the bridge to the taxpayer $150,000, instead of $450,000.
Altogether, the city paid only 26 per cent of the $4 million total cost, and Belleville has now completed the most difficult element of a trail network that - with improvements planned if anticipated Ontario and federal funding comes through - will link to the waterfront trail to the south and to the Trans-Canada trail at Tweed, to the north.
We hit the trail early that Saturday morning at Wicklow Beach west of Colborne, where Alnwyck-Haldimand Mayor Bill Finley was on hand to see us off.
When we met him at the end of last month's trip, he was still suffering whiplash from having been driven into a retaining wall at high speed by his deputy mayor, who was blindfolded at the time.
"It still hurts, " Finley said, indicating his upper torso. The vehicle was totalled. The mayor is 63. You have to be tough to make it in politics out here.
The mayors' race at the Brighton Speedway, featuring a blindfolded driver under the direction of a navigating passenger, was a novelty fundraiser for the local hospice.
It went awry when the Alnwyck-Haldimand team saw red as Coburg Mayor Peter Delanty edged ahead.
"It's a Mars-Venus thing," I was told later, at lunch in Brighton. Apparently the organizers anticipated loads-a-laughs as the competitors edged tentatively around the track - as any sensible person, like a woman, would have.
"They didn't take testosterone into account," my informant said. "The guys just roared out of the gate." No word on what's being planned for next year, but Finley said he'd sooner race the conventional way.
We were the first customers at the new Dougalls on the Bay in Brighton, which is still under construction, but will be a wonderful stopping-off point for cyclists when it opens next month, as the trail goes past the restaurant's new location on the waterfront.
It's not everyone who wants to take in a sewage treatment system after lunch, but Brighton CAO Don O'Neill had our number, and we loved Brighton's engineered wetland.
Instead of a $3 million plant, the city spent $700,000 to flow its sewage through two lagoons and six hectares of marsh, finally discharging clean water into the lake.
This is the first Ontario municipality that has had the vision to use this natural method of treating sewage.
"The hardest part was to persuade the Ministry of the Environment to let us do it," said public works director Jim Phillips when I called him later.
The system, which was commissioned in 2000 and serves a population of 5,000, is now being monitored so the province can draw up guidelines for use by other municipalities.
The trail runs through it. There's no smell, and it's a delight
to see butterflies and redwing blackbirds flutter among the cattails as nature
quietly detoxifies a city's effluent.
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