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muddy trailsIt was with interest that I read Patrick Watson's open letter to Owen Sound's Mayor Council in response to the Owen Sound Accessibility Advisory Committee's recommendation to pave the trail that runs from the entrance to Harrison Park at 2nd Avenue East and 1st Street East. The comments that followed on The Hub's website also provoked thought.

Some suggested that the current condition of the trail is adequate for the disabled. It is not. As evidenced by recent photographs, parts of this trail are wet and mucky and would not be accessible by the disabled.

It should be noted that the city is bound by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), 2005, and is therefore required to have an Accessibility Advisory Committee. The city has done its due diligence in establishing this committee and the committee's recommendation was consistent with the AODA. There was public consultation when this legislation was developed.

The concerns raised were numerous, however, in my opinion, none were sufficient to justify discounting the committee's recommendation. Reference to improving the trail for people with disabilities as being "stupid," that the trail has been this way for generations, and that this work would be "a total waste of money," all ignore the fact that the AODA was passed for the very purpose of improving accessibility standards for Ontarians with physical and mental disabilities. This legislation is not "stupid," it reflects the need to remove existing barriers to access. A caring society should spend money to ensure that it is inclusive for all.

Concerns related to the effect of hardening the surface of the trail on the "environment" could be characterized as spurious. In some sections the road, which is also being paved, is only a few feet away from the trail, yet no one identified that as a concern. As well, much of Harrison Park is already highly developed. Hardening the surface of a short section of trail hardly constitutes a threat to the park's ecology. For example, the paved road network, the playground, the campground, the impoundment resulting from the Mill Dam, the ice rink/basketball court, the exotic birds, and the mowing of lawns throughout the summer, to name but a few, result in a park that is already not in a pristine state.

Yes, road salt is a legitimate environmental concern. In this situation, however, a gravel/salt mixture is already being applied to park trails, including this section, so in effect there will be little or no change in this regard. Further, the amount of salt used to treat a small section of trail, pales in comparison to the 11,000 tonnes the city uses on its roadways annually.

Other arguments that could be characterized as specious included concerns about interference with cross-country skiing, that a paved trail will become a race way (sic), and that paving will precipitate a safety issue. How paving a short section of trail will result in it becoming a risky raceway seems unlikely given that pedestrians and cyclists already use most park trails without incident. How will this section be different?

Concerns associated with the need for public consultation are not unreasonable. The public expects to be informed and consulted when government undertakes activities that will impact them. This is why the Accessibility Advisory Committee was formed, to hear from the public on issues of mutual interest.

Finally, concerns related to construction and drainage issues are best left to engineers. I am confident that the city will ensure that any hardening of the surface will meet construction, safety, and drainage standards. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy outlines a number of options for trail surfaces that are worthy of consideration.

https://www.railstotrails.org/build-trails/trail-building-toolbox/design/surfaces/

In conclusion, none of those people participating in the discussion self-identified as being disabled, suggesting that the perspective of those most affected by this recommendation is conspicuous by its absence.

David McLeish
Owen Sound

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