Highlands East works on developing expansive trail network 0
Highlands East councillor Joan Barton, left, and municipal student intern Laurelea Dirstein, have been diligently working on trail development throughout Highlands East. Dirstein, who's position was funded through the Haliburton County Development Corporation, has been out on her bike and ATV marking various trails and improving access and signage. ANGELICA BLENICH/HALIBURTON COUNTY ECHO/QMI AGENCY
Laurelea Dirstein hops on her ATV and hits the trails.
Navigating her way through Highlands East, she, 23, loves being outdoors.
And she loves a good trail.
To top it all off, Dirstein is getting paid to do something she loves. Dirstein has been hired by the municipality of Highlands East as a student intern, splitting her time between the trails and business and economic development committees, both of which are newly created committees of council.
Funded by the Haliburton County Development Corporation, the full-time intern position covers an eight month term, which began this past June. One of the first tasks assigned to Dirstein was to help develop the trail system throughout the eastern part of the county, making note of problem areas and ways the municipality could improve their own paths.
“We brought in community reps and started to talk about how we could bring forward trails in Highlands East in a way that would have general benefit to the community and tie in with economic development,” said Highlands East Councillor Joan Barton, chairwoman of the trails committee. The new committees were an idea struck up by Highlands East Reeve Dave Burton, who wanted to focus on areas of interest and importance for the municipality. The committee is comprised of volunteers from the community who have an interest in trails. As a result, the committee has taken on two projects, the smaller of which focuses on proposed recommended cycling trails. After seeking input into existing cycling routes used by people in the community, the committee came up with four tentative routes.
“Our goal is to get these cycling routes brought up to safe standard, identified with directional signage and promoted to the community within this year,” said Barton.
Along with the HCDC funding, the committee has secured a $20,000 grant from the Eastern Ontario Trails Association, to be used for trail repairs, signage and promotion.
Averaging around 20 kilometres in length, the routes have been scouted by Dirstein, who has an education background in outdoor tourism
“I’ve been out on an ATV, dirt bike as well as a peddle bike,” she said.
The committee has been working in conjunction with HATVA, the Haliburton ATV Association and OFTR, the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders, to clear the routes.
“We’ve gone out there and spent some time getting the trails to a safe travelling standard,” said Dirstein.
The projects underway are not about creating new trails but repairing and enhancing already existing trails, said Barton.
“It’s really about packaging and promoting an asset that already exists,” she said.
“What we’re doing is highlighting for people the linkages between municipal roads and rail trail and old colonial roads. We’re connecting the dots … that’s the plan.”
Once Dirstein got out on the trails she discovered there were about 10 problem points in total that needed to be addressed.
“They could be as simple as a trail being overgrown, to a section where we had a problem with beavers, to the point where they flooded the whole trail, so that people couldn’t even traverse across it.”
The latter problem was fixed by using seven loads of fill.
“Now it’s beautiful. It’s a nice trail and it’s usable again,” said Dirstein.
As a result of Dirstein’s work, the trails are now all marked, in terms of interior directional signage.
While working on this project the committee and Dirstein have hit some speed bumps, such as discovering in some cases land ownership to be different than assumed, said Barton.
Despite the delays the committee is confident three routes will be up and running before the end of the year. To date the established paths are located in Wilberforce, Tory Hill and Gooderham, with plans to develop the Cardiff and Highland Grove areas in the future. The trails are mixed use and welcome to hikers, cyclists and ATVers. Barton says the committee plans on promoting the routes primarily to cyclists and hikers, based on the fact their length is more suited for those purposes.
“They are public, so there will not be any forbidden use,” she said.
When Dirstein is not out on the trails she’s working on a trail maintenance guide and figuring out ways to help make the trails safer for everybody.
She’s also up to her elbows in trail brochures, researching effective methods of how to promote the routes in Highlands East.
The intern believes the community and municipality is behind the project.
“I’ve had a lot of comments, from seeing people and families out on the trails, saying they really see how much work we’ve done out there,” said Dirstein. “This is the perfect trail system. It just needs to be developed and we need the support behind it.”
A much larger project the committee is hoping to achieve is the creation of a municipally managed off-road vehicle trail system, similar to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in West Virginia.
“There are other municipally managed trail systems that have been quite successful, a local example is the water trails system in Algonquin Highlands,” said Barton.
A project of that size and scope would require major planning, as well as public input. For now the municipal staff are proud of the work they’ve accomplished.
“It’s a start for us, Rome wasn’t built in a day. At least we’re doing it,” said Highlands East Reeve Dave Burton.