Rural HRM communities in dispute over Gaetz Brook trail use

Active transportation association has restricted motorized vehicles on trail connector

The Eastern Shore communities of Musquodoboit Harbour and Porters Lake have hit a crossroad when it comes to the use of local trails, with disagreements coming to the attention of many in the community over the last year.

The disputes stem from one association not allowing motorized vehicles on the trails, and another community association demanding the trails be shared with everyone.

“We would like to see Nova Scotia be more inclusive and be on par with the rest of the Atlantic provinces for multi-use trails,” said Peter Debellefeuille, the president of the Nova Scotia Share Our Trails Association (NSSOTA).

He said he felt most people were not made aware of a proposal for non-motorized vehicle trails.

NSSOTA is an organization that believes that all trails should be shared among walkers, cyclists, horse riders and motorized vehicles.

Debellefeuille said Atlantic provinces, including New Brunswick, use multi-use trails as a form of tourism in their rural communities. He said this could be achievable because people would travel to rural Nova Scotia to use their all terrain vehicles (ATVs) along the trails and visitors could stay and dine at motels and inns in the smaller communities.

Mark Power, NSSOTA’s vice-president, said there are more than 3,000 members on their Facebook page. He admitted that he does not use the trails often, but cares deeply about the issue.

“The community is being destroyed, neighbours are arguing, this is what bugs me the most,” he said.

In December, Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin gave authority over the Gaetz Brook connector trail from the province to the Shore Active Transportation Association Trails (SATA). The group also received permission to restrict motorized vehicles from the trail.

In response to these changes, Coun. David Hendsbee, municipal representative for the area, asked Rankin to overturn the Letter of Restriction, although Rankin rejected the proposal.

SATA Trails is an organization that aims to create more greenways for active transportation in Porters Lake and surrounding communities. Active transportation means transport by walking, cycling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and more.

Patricia Richards, co-chairperson of SATA Trails, said the group is focusing on its goal of promoting active transportation.

“It has nothing to do with whether or not we like motorized vehicles or not because we all have cars, but that’s not what we’re talking about,” she said in an interview.

In 2014, HRM’s transportation committee released a report on its active transportation plans between 2014 to 2019. The report mentions the Eastern Shore area, and Richards said SATA Trails is fulfilling HRM’s vision by making greenways.

She said the reason the trails in dispute are non-motorized is because the government will not fund shared trails. The Gaetz Brook Greenway received $890,626 from HRM and the province, and $254,714 from non-governmental organizations in 2019.

“We haven’t seen any good models or policies from anyone for a particular common ground,” she said. “We aren’t suggesting it can’t be done, but I don’t how it can happen right now.”

Debellefeuille said the many alternatives the association suggested to the government and SATA Trails were denied.

“There are many trails on old rail beds that are multi-use, all we’re asking is that ours be treated the same,” he said.

There are three other shared trails in HRM: the Blueberry Run in Seaforth, Shearwater Flyer and St. Margarets Bay.

Hendsbee said he has been a longtime advocate for shared trails. He pointed to the fact that the Gaetz Brook trail path is nine feet wide.

“There’s more than enough room to cut out a parallel trail for ATVs and snowmobiles and all they got to do is just share the bridges, causeways and road crossings,” said Hendsbee. “It would allow for shared trails. In my opinion this would solve the whole issue.”

Hendsbee said motorized vehicles should be allowed on the trails because the riders help to upkeep the trails.

“The active transportation groups are more dependent on the contractors to do the work and municipal maintenance, whereas motorized vehicle groups do a lot more volunteer labour,” he said.

Hendsbee said motorized vehicle owners use the trails for access so they can get to the back of the woods, whereas people who use it for active transportation do it for exercise and adventure.

“Shared trails have to be accommodating. There is trail etiquette. If you’re on a motorized vehicle, you have to stop and let the walkers, cyclists or horses go by,” he said.

“I do not see any changes to happen soon,” said Hendsbee. “In my opinion, there would have to be a change in government for there to be a change of opinion.”

NSSOTA demands that trails be shared.   Lesli Tathum

The ATV Association of Nova Scotia (ATVANS) manages 1,100 kilometres of trail under a land use agreement with the Crown and private landowners. The Gaetz Brook corridor and Musquodoboit Harbour trail are not managed by ATVANS.

Barry Barnet, ATVANS executive director, said the organization doesn’t plan on jumping into the dispute. ATVANS allows its clubs to dictate whether or not they should get involved.

The club in the Musquodoboit Harbour and Porters Lake area did not have members who were ready to pursue the management of the trail, hence SATA Trails taking the position.

“It rests with the province of Nova Scotia to determine this. The locals that were concerned about it, they sought our advice but they didn’t take it,” said Barnet, adding that all of the trails managed by ATVANS are multi-use.

“We believe it’s better to include everybody. That way, we’re all responsible for looking after the trail,” he said.

NSSOTA continues to try and find common ground with SATA Trails.

“We’re not going to let this die. We’re going to continue fighting for our communities,” Power said.

Lesli Tathum

Lesli Tathum

Lesli is from the Cayman Islands. She is in her fourth year of journalism at the University of King's College and is a member of the King's Women's Varsity Soccer team.

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10 comments

  1. This should not be laid rest..we miss ATVing on our local trails.A part of our winter recreation has been taken away..The trail is beautiful but during the winter it is barely used, ice and snow has made it almost impossible to access on foot.This would be a great opportunity for it to be multi used..

  2. I am an Atv owner and agree these trails should be open to all. I live in the local area of above trails. But in order for me to go Atving I have to trailer by Atv on the highway in order to get around and I can see the walking trail from my home. Utterly disgusting I say. T

  3. IMO let them do what they want but…… when it comes to fix the trails they shall not get any of our funding to do so most of these people don’t realize it’s our plate fees at the dmv that pay for the trail

  4. ATV use on trails makes it uselesd in winter and wet conditions for other users. Victoria Park in Truro, Musqudoboit Trail are grest examples of how great trails without atvs are for walkers, skiers, snow shoers and fat bikers. While the trails in St Margarets Bay, OLd Coach and Mahone Bay for example are deeply rutted by atv tracks making them useless for skiing, snowshoing etc.

    1. The same on the Blueberry Trail in Seaforth. It’s absolutely unusable in the winter as it’s one long line of water/ice filled ponds caused by the ATVs and motorcycles. I’m sure the puddles are fun for some but for those of us on foot or peddles it’s an impassable mess. I live right on the blueberry trail but I now put my dogs in the car and drive up to Musquodoboit to use the railway bridge trail. As do many other dog walkers.

      1. I am a walker, runner, and Cyclist and have no issues with the ATV sharing the trails. I actually find that the ATVER’s are more respectful on the trail then other trail users to be quite honest. They always pull to the side stop and wave at us as we walked, cycle or run on the trails. I use the St Margaret’s Bay Rail to trail and the BLT trails a few times a week and never had issues with ruts etc.. In fact I see the local ATV clubs actually assisting the local trail groups on a regular basis in doing the trail maintenance such as, brush trimming, re-surfacing, signing, trail patrol etc…

        Why fight over trails why not work together instead and pool volunteers and resources like the rest of the country does. More would get accomplished that way and we would have more trails for everyone to enjoy!

      2. I am not sure there are many holes left by ATV’S as you mentioned however the passage from Causeway rd towards Hopes is definitely not the doings of Atv’s but by creating a overside road along the causeway road. That definitely needs attention. I would drive my puppys up to musquodoboit to avoid that. Sorry for your issues. As a driver i do not create holes. If anything i try to remediate as much as possible. Fact. My degree is as such. If you have a hole let me know where and we will do our best to fix it.

  5. They keep saying gov’t funded money , thats a joke , gov’t funded money is our money !!!!!! and thus should make this a shared trail corridor ! Every OHV pays part of registration as a trail funded portion , as well as insurance , Yet walkers just get handed our tax dollars to use exclusively to disregard the wants of 1000’s of tax payers . This is not even close to an inclusive mind set , Everyone should be able to decide what their method of enjoying nature should be !! OHV riders would never ever think of excluding anyone that is willing to respect the trail ! Believe me we police morons on OHV our selves , we never put up with riders being foolish, or leaving litter ect. on our trails or in Nature , Walkers are not the entitled ones they think they are . !!

  6. You forgot to mention many members of SATA were members of the group opposing motorized use 15 years ago when a local club first approached the Govt regarding a letter of authority. Those two groups went to arbitration but with the group opposed to motorized use adamantly denying any form of co-operation, the arbitrator decided against either side acquiring the letter of authority stating no one would get it. It wasn’t until the govt fell in favor with the walking group ( a new group in name ) that it quietly pushed this through and did not follow their own procedures for doing so.

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