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Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Trail is quite literally one of the jewels in the crown that is Canada’s Great Trail. Classified as a continuous greenway, it is the envy of others where trails are not necessarily defined as nonmotorized. What we on P.E.I. have is a tremendous resource treasured not only by Islanders, but also those visiting the Island.
Increasingly, soft adventure tourism is on the rise, and with that is a huge interest in both hiking and bicycling. Those, including young families, who take part in this activity every year love not only the high quality of our trails, but also the beauty, and serenity that surrounds one as you move along the trail.
Unfortunately, this may be impacted if Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Minister Steven Myers successfully proceeds, as he has stated, with introducing legislation this fall to allow a pilot project for multiple all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) crossing points on the Confederation Trail. Although one may be sympathetic to the cause of the ATV Federation in wishing to expand their network of trails, this would be a step backwards for the Confederation Trail, and for Prince Edward Island.
Among the concerns are: (1) safety at the crossing points — potentially high-speed motorized traffic and pedestrian or bicycle traffic is not a good mix; (2) damage to the trail — motorized vehicles create ruts and may cause significant damage creating difficulty particularly for bicycles; and (3) the impact on tranquility — people are not drawn to the Confederation Trail to experience either the noise or the dust that comes from ATV operation.
While any one of these reasons is significant, perhaps the greatest concern of all is that of potential policy creep — once the door is opened, it can become a very slippery slope. Even now, while there is an absolute restriction on motorized use, most frequent trail users have at least once experienced ATVs disrespectfully roaring down the trail itself. While it is understood that this is certainly not condoned by either the provincial government or the ATV Federation, it happens increasingly, and this is worrisome.
It is important to note that previous administrations of the P.E.I. government in accepting significant capital investment from both the Great Trail and the Weston Foundation, have agreed to designating and maintaining the Confederation Trail as a continuous greenway. The current proposal by Minister Myers at the very least violates the spirit of this commitment. Additionally, it would not appear to be a good faith move to have already decided, as he has indicated in a recent CBC interview, to table legislation in advance of a fulsome consultation, and seemingly do so based singularly on the lobby interests of just one party to this issue. Perhaps in announcing his view of a “big opportunity in ATV tourism,” Mr. Myers, as minister, is not fully aware that the tourism industry (TIAPEI) itself, in its “Vision 2021” plan, clearly identifies “soft adventure” tourism as a major initiative, and stresses in detail the importance of offering visitors experiences in P.E.I.’s pristine, natural, and tranquil environment.
Even if one accepts the notion of an ATV tourism opportunity, at what cost would it come? There is certainly much potential for a negative impact to the natural essence of the Confederation Trail, and its associated tourism. It is my hope that citizens speak up, voice their concerns to their MLAs, and bring a halt to this ill-advised proposal before it is too late. Once lost, it will be extremely difficult to regain what we have today!
Greg McKee is the president of Island Trails.