Rail Trail volunteers concerned over lack of consultation

It appears that the Town of Saugeen Shores is considering allowing snowmobiles the use of the Saugeen Rail Trail which has historically been a non-motorized multi-use trail.


The SRT development began in early 2009 when founder Joyce Scammell of Port Elgin began fundraising to develop the local trail that would use the decommissioned train line bed as a pedestrian non-motorized trail for walking, hiking, cycling, cross-county skiing and snowshoeing.

Since its inception, volunteers have spent thousand of hours grooming and maintaining the Saugeen Rail Trail (SRT).

For 31 years, the SRT Association has developed and maintained the rail trail and has had a land lease agreement with the Town for the whole time for the “… sole purpose of developing a linear parkland for non-motorized use.”

Rail Trail has a new reason to celebrate

Participating in a recent delegation to Saugeen Shores Town Council, SRT Vice-President, Ann MacKay said that,  “All members and board volunteers who daily maintain the trail, raise funds and raise awareness for its use do so on the premise that trail is for non-motorized use. If non-motorized use allowed on trail, undermines reason for existence of the rail trail association and likely volunteering, support and fundraising, all strong on the basis of a non-motorized trail, will drop.”

One of the main areas of contention is the Mill Creek bridge.  SRTA development of the bridge area began in 2009 and was constructed with fundraising by the SRTA for some $50,000.  Vehicle barriers were also installed to prevent motorized vehicles from crossing the bridge, in keeping with the non-motorized policy for the Rail Trail.

According to MacKay’s deputation to Council, “one SRTA member attended a Town organized meeting mainly for information only and clearly indicated that concerns over safety were constantly raised. No formal minutes were sent to SRTA or a motion of support was never asked for. At a site meeting attended by a SRTA Director, he was told that it was “already a done deal”. He stated that he was personally against motorized vehicles using the bridge and was sure that the Board of the SRTA would be as well.”

  • The SRTA board’s August 10 meeting minutes reflect “trying to find a compromise with the snowmobile club”, “trail not suited for motorized vehicles”, and “liability issues”.
  • Council passed the agreement on September 13 with the snowmobile club, with the Town report saying “all user groups agreed with this routing”. Saugeen Rail Trail did not agree.
  • Frank Burrows came to the SRT meeting on September 16th, three days after it was passed by Council.  He had met with individuals prior but never with the Board and no Board support was given
  • SRT September 16th minutes reflected “concern over Mill Creek Bridge where 2 paths converge”, “noise”, “residential areas”, and “that we will meet to get a clearer picture of the proposed trail. “ However, at this time it appears to have been a done deal already.”
The decision/agreement was apparently passed on September 13th but the SRTA was not informed until September 16th.
  • Unclear if the decision to allow snowmobiles to cross the pedestrian bridge over Mill Creek and then to use the Rail Trail from the bridge south to the Town limits, behind the homes on Maple Dr., included any input homeowners in that stretch, who will now have snowmobilers use trails in town by their homes.
  • Motorized vehicles have access to the south end of Town already and have had for the past 31 years. They can cross Mill Creek at the 6th Concession or at Bruce County Road 17. The Saugeen Rail Trail system should not be included, even on a temporary basis, as a motorized vehicle route.

Safety: The Mill Creek Bridge is a modified train trestle bridge which was designed and built for pedestrian traffic. In SRT’s opinion, the railing and the width of the structure are NOT conducive to motorized traffic and would require an engineering review.

At the SRT AGM on October 19th, the main issue discussed was the proposed use of motorized vehicles on the trail by both Directors and members reacted negatively.

The SRTA has enquired if a confirmation of an agreement with the snowmobile club has already been signed but, if not, the SRT wants the opportunity to provide input. In addition, the SRT would like to receive details of the snowmobile association’s obligations regarding insurance, safety, creation of hard barriers, the location of specific signage and appropriate fencing.

“We would also like a site visit made to the area, especially the bridge, for both parties to satisfy themselves about the practicality of how safety would be assured,” said MacKay.  “We would also like clarity on insurance protection. Our insurance does not cover motorized use – will it have to be modified with an expected increase in rates. Who will be responsible for this increase? Town will need to ensure it has adequate coverage to liability for accidents from the dual use and need more specifics on insurance protection than the draft agreement provides for.”

At a minimum, the SRT has requested that snowmobile access to town be limited to the several other avenues that already exist and that the Mill Creek bridge NOT be opened up for their use.

Saugeen Rail Trail Board of Directors statement

“The Saugeen Rail Trail Association is both disappointed and dumbfounded by the Town’s handling of this issue. Just in the last 21 years the joint trail project from the Mill Creek Bridge to Louis St to the 6th Concession was completed after 3 years of public consultation, user group negotiations and $160,000 of Saugeen Rail Trail donations. For the past 20 years and up until this year when motorized users have lobbied the Town for access it has been turned down as we have presented our position and presented obvious safety issues yet again. Police Services have not been involved this time but in the past had requested vehicle barriers on the trail.

Our contributions as a volunteer organization increased during COVID times to allow year round usage of our trail and to develop more trails through fundraising. At this time many of our volunteers are considering stepping down after this latest disrespectful negotiation.

WE ask you (Council) to consider holding off on this decision and not to rush to a decision without proper consultation. We find the process flawed.