Some Hay River residents took to social media to air their concerns last week over a decision by town council on Aug. 26 to not allocate an extra $107,000 for walking trail improvements.
“The money they have agreed to spend will probably all get eaten up by two connections between trails,” said walking trail proponent Ken Latour of the missing links between the trail systems on Vale Island – one near the West Channel Bridge and the other between the airport and the Oxbow Trail system. “I’m all good with the money getting spent on those connections and the Kiwanis (Trail) because that’s the one that sees the most use, but there are other places more money could be well spent.”
Questions arose around council’s decision to not reallocate $107,000 from the emergency mains repair fund – money earmarked for repairing water lines that run under the highway – in order to see that amount matched by the Trans-Canada Trail (TCT) organization for trail improvements.
Council had already budgeted $100,000 for the trails project, which, with the matching contribution from TCT, totals $200,000.
As The Hub reported last week, some councillors were in favour of jumping on the chance to get fifty-cent-dollars, while others said there were other priorities and were leery of taking money out of the emergency mains repair fund without having seen a plan for how that money would be spent.
“Council was split,” said Mayor Andrew Cassidy. “That tells me we haven’t seen enough information for council to make a decision to reallocate those funds. We’re not comfortable taking money out of the emergency mains repair fund at this time.”
It was Cassidy’s vote that broke the tie between councillors who came out for and against reallocating the extra money, but he said the matter is not off the table entirely.
“We asked administration to come back to us with more information about the project,” he said. “Is this multi-year funding? What’s the plan for the trails? Where will this money be spent exactly? Is there a plan or is jumping on this money a reactionary thing?”
Cassidy said that, while the TCT matching the town’s contribution dollar-for-dollar up to $207,000 – for a total of $414,000 – is certainly attractive, it doesn’t mean council should make a snap decision.
“The reality is that it’s not free money,” Cassidy said. “We have to be smart and strategic about this.”
Latour said he thinks council should have jumped at the chance to get money from a national organization for something as well-used and valued as Hay River’s trail system, but is hopeful future decisions will go differently.
“I think what really needs to come out of this is a trail users association,” he said.
While he has attempted to organize such a group before, he admitted trail walkers are not the easiest bunch to rally.
“It’s not like baseball or something where you get together as a team and meet up and play a game,” he laughed. “We’re all using the trails separately for the most part.”
That being said, Latour and a group of volunteers have put in a lot of hours over the past seven years clearing trails on Vale Island and creating small paths around the worst of the bog on the Oxbow. They have used hand tools for the most part, although Latour did say the town’s recreation department has supported the endeavour and brought in a wood chipper to help clear a section of the trail near the entrance on 105th Street.
“We’ve done a lot with hand tools,” he said. “But I think we’ve realized we need power tools now. We’ve done about as much as we can ourselves.”
For Latour, it’s more a question of labour than capital expense. He said the town’s wood chipper is bought and paid for, and with that and a few chainsaws the trails could be significantly improved without a lot of capital investment.
“It’s just such a great resource for the whole community,” he said. “There are people who use them who might not really get out and be active otherwise. In a town that has the infrastructure needs we have, if we have an opportunity to get some fifty-cent-dollars, we should jump on it.”
— Sarah Ladik