Municipal Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Sunderland described the motion to council, which, if pursued, would see them lease 45.9 kilometres of trails from Bear River to Sissiboo River as Crown land.
The conversation first started in December, when the Municipality of the District of Digby felt information from the department on trail management was lacking.
“The province seemed to be putting up more roadblocks than anything and highlighting the length of trail, staff and trail resources that would be needed,” said Sunderland.
“It sounded pretty intimidating, so we left it for a while.”
A change in conversation
After the municipality hired Jonathan Riley as the municipal Trails and Open Spaces Coordinator, the conversation began again.
With a dedicated staff member to oversee these trails, Sunderland proposed a motion to submit this expression of interest to gain more information on what managing these trails would look like.
Digby Town Council’s move to hold a public meeting on trails also spurred the municipality into action as well.
“A number of this things have got the discussions going again on what will happen on these trails,” said Sunderland.
Finding an approach
After consulting with ATV groups and other trail coordinators, Sunderland found a common, functional approach.
“The best model is when the municipal unit steps in with a letter of authority and forms partnerships around it including advisory committees representing different geographical areas and types of trail users – cyclists, walkers, ATV-users,” he said.
Once this provides council with more information, Sunderland said council should move to submit a letter of authority.
No long term letter of authority has ever been granted. The Digby ATV Club had only succeeded in receiving short term, small-sectioned letters permitting 30 days for trail maintenance.
Leasing, not owning
Authority to lease would change all of this, according to Sunderland.
“DNR remains the owner: we lease the trail. There’s no commitment: if we aren’t happy after four, five years, 30 days is the exit policy,” said Sunderland.
“Having that exit clause and being new getting into this leaves us a nice option if there were challenges.”
The motion was accepted, and several members of council expressed their support.
“I think this is a great idea and a great thing we need to happen. This is what our taxpayers would like to see happening: building valuable assets to the community,” said Deputy Warden Linda Gregory, who also highlighted Digby ATV Club president Keith Comeau has expressed his support of this move and his club’s commitment to helping maintain the trails.
Maintenance responsibilities a main concern
Warden Jimmy MacAlpine also supported the motion, but vocalized concern on one matter: which party – the municipality or DNR – would ultimately assume responsibility for the maintenance of trail structures, such as Joggins Bridge.
“We can’t get answers to these questions and things until we write, asking for the letter of authority,” said Sunderland.
“This will be a multi-month process. We’ll start with this and then find out more.”