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SSJI launches point-to-point South Shore footpath project

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
With no rainfall afterall, folks explored and enjoyed the County’s south shore Saturday in what was the official launch day for the PEC South Shore Footpath Project – a point-to-point walking trail, intended to stretch from Point Petre (in the west) to Point Traverse (in the east).

Its intention is not only to help highlight the County’s beautiful and bio-diverse south shore, but the footpath project is designed to help to conserve, protect and restore fragile lands.

Hosted by the South Shore Joint Initiative (SSJI), and its team of 20-plus volunteers who are leading and pioneering the project, the Mariners Park Museum on County Road 13 was the base for the public kick-off. The day included a full day of activities at the museum site, as well as scheduled walks at various nearby South Shore location points, where the ultimate goal of the project is to promote the well-being of all.

Geoff Craig, project leader, said the plan, in the long run, is to get a point-to-point footpath all the way from Point Petre, all the way out to Prince Edward Point, or Point Traverse lighthouse.

“What’s exciting about it is the benefits, and we start with conservation. As part of the SSJI, we want to permanently protect the South Shore with biodiversity and where all can thrive,” said Craig.

Kyra and Tully kept everyone entertained with live music, the smell of good barbecued food wafted the air, and a host of kids’ activities kept folks entertained as they learned about the footpath project and the South Shore from the information booths, as well as from the many knowledgeable volunteers on-site.

While attendance was a little on the low side for the rain or shine event, the weather cooperated to produce a fine day, especially for those who chose to take one of the walks and to be among the first to explore future walking trails. Inspired by the iconic Bruce Trail, a future South Shore Footpath will enable everyone to step into nature and explore the rare beauty of local the shore.

Five scheduled walks running throughout the day were booked-up well in advance (although walk-ins on the day were not turned away), with 150 reservations, although slightly less came out it, thought to be due to the forecasted stormy weather (which never materialized, at least not on the south shore).

The walks were centred on three different locations and included varying lengths and degrees of difficulty as folks enjoyed free guided tours through scenic south shore conserved and public lands.

At one-and-a-half hours, the Point Traverse walk was the shortest in distance at two kilometres, and deemed the easiest choice suited for everyone. The Point Petre walk at 2.8 kilometres in length, taking roughly two hours to traverse, but for those up for a challenge, the Old Tower Road walk at six kilometres, taking about two-and-a-half hours to complete, was the longest route with the most interesting terrain, designed for those looking for more of an adventure.

Craig noted how there have been a lot of studies that have shown that by creating a footpath, folks will spend time in nature.

“The more time you spend in nature, you will love it more, and you are more apt to look after it, so that’s a nice premise,” he said, “but it’s actually backed-up by research, which is great, and there is no shortage of studies around the world showing positive environmental effects.”

“The other thing is, it’s not just for the environment, it’s for ourselves and the community, and unsurprisingly, spending time in nature is good for our well-being and it’s good for cognition, and ultimately it drives people’s happiness higher.”

In this family-friendly event, where all nature-based activities and crafts, including the guided walks, were free of charge, there was face painting, a kids’ drumming circle, and the kids’ activity zone catered to all ages and interests, and included making a badge (with an amazing badge-making machine), beads to string to make a monarch butterfly bead bracelet or a caterpillar, nature drawing, and making a popsicle stick turtle, among them.

“We’ve got a great day going on here with lots of booths set-up where people can learn stuff about nature, so lots of information to learn and people seem to be enjoying it when they talk to the individuals.”

Along with the SSJI folks who were happy to share their vision and their enthusiasm for the new footpath, other local environmental- and nature-related groups were also on hand to talk about what they do, including the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists and Kingston Field Naturalists, Nature Canada, Canadian Wildlife Services, Quinte Conservation, Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Ontario Parks.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Belleville Centre, were also on hand to talk about County skies, as well as establishing a dark sky preserve for the South Shore.

The footpath is a project of the South Shore Joint Initiative, a volunteer-led, non-profit Canadian registered charity. Founded in 2018 by national, provincial and local partners, SSJIs mission is to educate and advocate for the protection, preservation and restoration of South Shore lands and waters.

Craig explained how they have decided to break up the footpath project into phases.

“The first phase is basically saying, why don’t we take like-minded public properties and land trusts, who are more likely to play ball, and we are in great shape there.”

He said they have the new conservation reserve, who are in the process of doing a management plan and have asked for their input in terms of where a trail should go.

“All the way to the other end, we’ve got the National Wildlife Area and we’ve been in conversation with Environment and Climate Change Canada and they’ve given the support to do this as well.”

He said, in the middle, there is also part of Monarch Point at Ostrander Point, and beside that is the Maple Cross property, owned by the National Conservancy of Canada, with whom they are also working.

“If you just take those properties, the three of them, the total as the crow flies to the south shore is about 26 kilometres, and that’s over 40 per cent of it,” Craig said. “That’s great when you look at it on a map, so we’ve got two ends and a middle, and now how do we connect the dots, and that’s really phase three and that’s going to take a lot longer.“

Craig said, they are starting from a pretty good point where they are trying to look after conservation and people’s well-being ideally, but stressed it isn’t a project that will happen overnight.

“It’s a long-term project and it’s not easy because we are talking about voluntary participation, the property owners, and that’s going to take a long time.”

Craig spoke to the some misinformation circulating in the community reiterating the project is not about trying to expropriate private lands, or stop the use of ATVS, stating that the organization is not in the business of buying, or expropriating, land.

“There has unfortunately been some misinformation, if not some disinformation out there, and we need to do a better job of having one-on-one conversations with individual and owners, and that’s what we are going to do, and that’s going to be a big focus for us, and we are happy to talk at any point in time.”

In terms of land, Craig said people make their own decisions, and if they were to participate, they (landowners) would say where the trail goes, confirming again that any participation is voluntary.

“I think what gives me hope is the fact that there are benefits overall, and I think there can be benefits to individual property owners in terms of land stewardship and learning something about their own lands.”

To learn more about the South Shore Joint Initiative, the work they undertake and the frequent on-going events they hold, how to become a volunteer, as well as details of the PEC South Shore Footpath Project, visit ssji.ca

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  1. Luca says:

    Incredible work from the volunteers!

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