County Council supports a reduction in speed along ecologically sensitive wetland areas of Millennium Trail

The Millennium Trail at Stanley Street looking west. A green space adjacent to the trail on its north side was one of two proposed launch points that were referred back to municipal staff. (Jason Parks/Gazette File Photo)

 

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

 

At the most recent Committee of the Whole Meeting, Prince Edward County Councillors passed a motion in support of a deputation by Amy Bodman and Dave Mowbray with regards to reducing the speed on the Millennium Trail in wetland areas of ecological significance.

Bodman and Mowbray are both members of the trail improvement ad-hoc committee. Bodman is also the Eco-Advisor of the Prince Edward County Trails Board while Mowbray represents the Prince Edward Trail Riders Snowmobile Club.

Specifically, these representatives from the trail improvement committee asked that speeds along the Slabb Creek and Hubbs Creek Wetlands be reduced to 10 km/hour, as opposed to the current 20 km/hour.

The request is part of the rehabilitation done to the Millennium Trail since 2018. As part of the initial rehabilitation work, much of the 49 km of the trail has been resurfaced in order to improve the trail’s accessibility.

The area in question where the committee would like to see speeds reduced is, like many wetlands in Ontario, ecologically sensitive.

“The Slabb Creek and Hubbs Creek Wetlands are jewels along the trail, stunning and filled with biodiversity, including many species at risk, such as the Blandings Turtle,” said Bodman. “As provincially significant wetlands, they are an integral part of the county’s natural infrastructure, protecting our water supply and mitigating the effects of climate change.”

As Bodman explains, it has taken the committee two years to come up with a solution for resurfacing the wetlands sections. Some notable challenges in this endeavour include: finding a solution that is affordable while maintaining the hydrology of the area and also enabling all types of users to access that portion of the trail while protecting the wetlands and their inhabitants.

Ultimately, the committee decided to resurface the road with limestone screening as with the other portions of the trail.

As Bodman stated, this solution is not without its own issues.

“This will increase the threats to the wetlands. We are anticipating increased traffic of all types on the trail and believe the wetlands in particular will be a major attraction,” she stated.

The biggest anticipated threat to wetland wildlife, as Bodman noted, is being run over. The screening, she stated, could promote inadvertent speeding, while the loose gravel will attract turtles onto the trail for nesting.

Aside from these is the issue of noise pollution, which will deter secretive marsh birds from nesting. With increased use of the trail, said Bodman, there could also be an increase in dust pollution, erosion and predation of turtle nests.

“The committee is considering other possibilities to protect wetland sections, but our first priority is to radically reduce speed limits to 10km, along with introducing a robust education campaign,” stated Bodman. “A speed of 10 km per hour will greatly reduce most of the threats to wetlands and wildlife. It will protect migrating wildlife, for instance, by allowing people to see the turtles and snakes as they drive around them and allowing frogs and butterflies to get out of the way.”

The planned reduction in speed should also reduce dust pollution and erosion, and as Bodman pointed out, will highlight important features of the trail, while preserving those sections as wildlife corridors that allow users to savour the beauty surrounding them all while making people aware of the county’s rich natural heritage.

As part of their education plan, the committee intends to erect animal crossing signage and interpretive signs explaining the importance of some species such as beavers.

In her deputation, Bodman pointed out the irrefutable importance of wetlands within our ecosystem. Not only do they absorb vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, they also protect our water supply, she noted.

Pointing to the bigger picture, Bodman also notes that in the past 150 years, Southern Ontario has lost over 72 per cent of its wetlands. Considering Southern Ontario is home to some of the most biodiverse regions in Canada, this situates the county’s wetlands as particularly important.

To that end, Mowbray spoke to the need for a comprehensive public education plan.

“In order to make this a feasible undertaking, we need to create a comprehensive public education campaign to inform all trail users of the importance of lower speed limits and the importance of obeying them,” he iterated.

Not mincing words, Mowbray conceded any by-law reducing speeds through wetlands would be a challenge to enforce. But, he noted, with proper education it could be a significant, positive improvement for all trail users.

Councillor Stewart Bailey responded that for many who use the trails, signage alone may not help reduce speeds, especially on vehicles that lack a speedometer.

“The most significant thing you can do is educate the consumer. The gentleman who rides a motor cross bike has no speedometer, so it’s a guessing game. I think you’ll need other ways to tell people and express this to them,” said Bailey.

Mowbray responded that the education component of this plan would be a comprehensive undertaking, but enforcement could be difficult, especially without County by-law enforcement officials.

Councillor Janice Maynard questioned how much is too much environmental degradation caused by limestone screening, and at what point the committee is prepared to revert that portion of the trail to its previous type of surface.

“We knew early on that limestone screenings would cause issues, so if we find that its really not working and you’re getting erosion-because it will attract nesting-at what point do we revert it back, removing the limestone screenings in those areas,” questioned Maynard. “That really is what is causing the damage to the wildlife. That’s the threat, in those particular areas, because it (the limestone screening) encourages nesting and then you get the erosion, run off and so on.”

Bodman replied that the type of surface used was decided upon due to its ease of access, for everyone from walkers to wheelchairs.

“It has to be wheelchair accessible, so we had to find a surface that would work for that.” stated Bodman. “The surface as it was did not fulfill that part of the grant which the municipality received to do this job. We would have to look at other options, such as fencing, adding more culverts, or a raised road.”

Bodman added that should they find undisturbed nests along the trail, they will cover them with nesting boxes.

“We’re just going to have to work on this and figure it out as we go. When it becomes really clear that something needs to be done, I’ll be doing another deputation to say ‘this is the next step’. It’s a huge experiment and a wonderful trail,” Bodman enthused. “ I feel that wetland sections being accessible are a great opportunity to teach people about the county’s natural heritage.”

The request for council to support this reduction in speed, thereby protecting provincially significant wetlands, was passed as a Bailey/Forrester motion.