Sarnia needs to do a better job of stopping residents from encroaching on the Howard Watson Nature Trail, says the author of a new trail management plan.
Adjacent property owners continue to use the trail as a dumping ground for their garden waste, cut or mow down native vegetation, plant unwanted trees and wage “persecution” on its chipmunks and snakes, said habitat expert Larry Cornelis.
He produced the trail’s first Environmental Management Plan last year on behalf of the city’s environmental advisory committee. The document, which lists rare and threatened species and makes numerous recommendations, was presented to city council in June.
“The encroachment issue has been ongoing since the trail’s creation,” Cornelis states in the report. “Recent affirmation (2016) by the city to deal with encroachment issues has failed once again.”
The management plan says stopping encroachment should be Sarnia’s first objective for the trail, a 17-kilometre former railway right-of-way that runs through the city and east to Camlachie.
Cornelis told The Journal the popular walking and cycling corridor protects an all-but-lost prairie ecosystem that’s home to more than a dozen rare and threatened plants. In fact, three species are classified as “S1,” meaning they’re found in five or fewer places in all of Ontario.
He wants the city to get serious and begin charging property owners who violate the rules.
“We’ve been saying this forever, and nothing happens,” said Cornelis, a consultant and Lambton Wildlife board member.
But city officials say a campaign started last year to educate the public is working.
A ‘Guide for Neighbours’ distributed to landowners explains why people shouldn’t mow, plant or drain swimming pools on what is in fact a linear park.
The guide also states anyone caught encroaching on the trail has 30 days to restore damaged areas to their original state or face charges under the Provincial Offences Act.
Parks and recreation director Rob Harwood said the intrusions stop once the reasons are explained.
“People are responding well once they understand the rules,” Harwood said, adding staff respond to complaints and meet with property owners to discuss solutions.
Because some people don’t understand the trail supports a rare ecosystem they mistakenly believe activities like adding trees and flowers is helpful.
“They think it’s just pretty,” he said. “They don’t understand it’s invasive.”
Bylaw enforcement supervisor Adam MacDonald confirmed the city has not laid any charges, and added that working with offenders appears to be effective.
Harwood said some of the complaints received come from people who live along the trail themselves.
“We have neighbours who will call us,” he said. “We welcome the public’s input.”