Walkers and cyclists came out to the Ridgetown area Thursday morning to celebrate the official opening of a new trail along what was once a railway corridor.
Phase 1 of the CASO Trail – named after the Canadian Southern Railway – runs 5.5 kilometres from Kent Bridge Road to Southwest Ag Partners at Erie Street.
“I just think it’s an exciting initiative because we’ve had interest from communities in Elgin County looking at what we’re doing here from a tourism perspective, just to link up their communities with ours,” said Jeff Bray, manager of parks and open spaces for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.
On the Chatham-Kent side, the trail will eventually run approximately 30 kilometres, extending west from the Elgin County line to Communications Road.
Bray said the next phase will be tendered over the winter for a spring construction. It will go from Erie Street to Victoria Road.
This first phase was completed in October 2018 over about three weeks, said Bray. When it was first announced, the cost was expected to be $475,000.
The funds came from energy provider Entegrus, which put $100,800 away annually over five years. Entegrus also owns the corridor, but granted the municipality a three-metre-wide appeasement to build the trail, said Bray.
Because Entegrus owns the former rail line all the way to St. Thomas, Elgin County is looking to “piggy back” on the project, he said.
Dianne Flook, president of the Chatham-Kent Trails Council, said the original rail line also extended west to Tecumseh in Essex County, and the council is hopeful a full trail can be built between the three regions.
“We’ve been approached by Essex and Elgin to join up with them and continue this trail,” she said. “We think eventually it will happen.”
This was the first time the municipality has converted a rail line into a trail. Bray said it provided a “good base” for the project.
“The ballast is still existing from the rail corridor,” he said. “It’s really just levelling it off, making sure the drainage is appropriate and then applying filter fabric to stop weed growth and then crusher dust on top of that.”
Access to the pathway is restricted to pedestrians, cyclists and service vehicles. ATVs are not permitted, said Bray.
Liz Meidlinger, manager of communications and student recruitment at the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, said she is excited about what the project can add to campus life.
“The next phase will go right through our campus,” she said. “The next phase will add another opportunity to enhance staff, students and visitor health and wellness.”
Flook said the first phase could be “a spine for the rest of our trails and transit.”