It’s been a long haul for the development of the K&P Trail in Frontenac County, and as was pointed out at the Grand Opening of the Trail in Sharbot Lake last Saturday, the trail is not quite complete even yet. In fact, even though a Trans-Canada Trail official told CBC radio last Thursday that the remaining 1,500 kilometres in the nationwide trail will be complete by the end of 2017, a couple of short trouble spots may prevent the final 8 kilometre stretch of the K&P link between Sharbot Lake and the Cataraqui Trail junction in Harrowsmith from being up and running by then. It’s almost fitting that this difficult project, which has consumed much more time and capacity from the small Frontenac County Economic Development Department than was envisioned at the start, a dozen or so years ago, will end up taking a bit more time, cost a bit more money than budgeted and tie up more staff time than planned before finally being completed. The point is it will be completed, and once it is, it will be an asset to the County. As the ceremony last week intimated, this is more than a 65 kilometre piece of trail in one corner of the county. It gives Frontenac County a much greater presence in the Trans Canada Trail, allowing the Cat and Rideau Trails to be incorporated into the national trail. Without the K&P, the Trans Canada would have hugged Hwy. 7.
The trail would have lost out on some of the most interesting landscape in Eastern Ontario, and Frontenac County would have lost the opportunity to market its existing trail system to the world. That’s why some of the criticism of the trail project is misguided, the charge that Frontenac County has poured a lot of resources into a piece of recreational infrastructure for the residents of only one corner of its land base. Residents in North Frontenac and Frontenac Islands do not benefit from the new trail, to be sure, but because of the connection to the Trans Canada Trail the impact of the trail will be felt all through South and Central Frontenac, not just for those living on the Road 38 corridor. Municipal governments are always spending money on roads that serve one corner of their jurisdiction or another, and in terms of both assessment and population, South and Central Frontenac represent over 80% of Frontenac County. The trail project certainly has a county-wide reach and it was the sort of project that was appropriately taken on by the county in association with the two local townships. It did take up an inordinate amount of time for former County Manager of Economic Development Anne Marie Young and for Richard Allen, the current manager, and that was, and is a loss because this kind of project is normally run by Recreation Departments.
Since Frontenac County has no such department, it fell to the Economic Development departments to find the money, and even act as project managers. Ideally a project manager would have been appointed at the start, and carried the project to fruition, but that was never in the cards because it took years to come up with a plan, finalize the purchases, etc. If it had been more straightforward, project management over a 2 year period would have worked, but that was not the case. The only way this project was going to be completed at all was for the County Economic Development Department to make it happen. It wasn’t ideal to be sure, and other opportunities were not pursued because the trail hijacked the department, but credit needs to go to Anne Marie Young for making the project happen, Richard Allen for completing it, and to two key volunteers, Wayne Robinson and Marcel Giroux. Robinson and Giroux put corporate money into the trail when it needed a boost five or so years ago, but their greatest contribution came when the trail reached its trickiest stage, the last 8 kilometres from Tichborne to Sharbot Lake, where the trail runs through private land. When the trail project was getting underway and Frontenac County purchased the former rail lands from Bell Canada, which take it from the border with Kingston to the train tracks in Tichborne, the question of the last 8 kilometres was asked of those who were promoting it at the county table. The answer was pretty vague.
Essentially it was a ‘we’ll worry about that when we get there’ response. Well, when they got there it was Marcel and Wayne who knocked on doors and helped negotiate separate arrangements for each piece. This has taken three years and while all the arrangements have been made, some of them are still in the hands of lawyers, which is one of the reasons that the trail is not finished yet. The trail will not bring prosperity to Frontenac County. It is not a casino, it is not a factory, but it is becoming part of a long-term strategy to promote Frontenac County as a place to live in and a place to visit. It is another link between our communities, another way to compensate for the fact that, unlike just about every other jurisdiction in Eastern Ontario, Frontenac County has no population Centre, no retail Centre, and no administrative Centre. We do have the countryside, a varied geography, and frogs and toads and porcupines and deer running around, and lakes to swim in and boat on and camp around. Trails provide access to all that without requiring families to purchase a $300,000 cottage or year round home. It may have been a difficult, overly expensive project, but it is not something that we will regret building as residents and taxpayers in Frontenac County. If we had walked away from it at the start or at any point along the way, we would have eventually seen it as a missed opportunity to be part of something big and important.