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Guelph Hiking Trail Club has ambitious plans for improving local trails

On any given day, Guelph and its surrounding trails are well trodden by families, runners, hikers and cyclists – particularly over the past several months of the pandemic.

On any given day, Guelph and its surrounding trails are well trodden by families, runners, hikers and cyclists – particularly over the past several months of the pandemic.

But the maintenance and accessibility of some of these trails wouldn’t be possible without the work of the Guelph Hiking Trail Club (GHTC) members and volunteers. The club was established in 1972, and now has 275 members and manages three trails – the Radial Line Trail, the Speed River Trail and the Kissing Bridge Trail – which total 85 kilometres of rural, natural landscape including woodlands, river views, low ledges and tree canopy.

“The trails largely exist through the generosity of private landowners who support the club by giving permission to install and maintain a trail on their property,” said John Fisher, a trail coordinator who sits on the executive committee at the GHTC.

Trails are also supported by the city and other community trail user groups, such as the Guelph Off Road Biking Association (GORBA), the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation (GCAT), the Speed River Cycling Club and various running groups.

In anticipation of the ever-growing use of and need for improved local trails, the GHTC is actively expanding its presence in Guelph by working with the community to maintain existing trails, develop new linkages and garner more appreciation of the city’s many natural assets.

To achieve this, the GHTC embarked on an ambitious initiative in late 2019 to relocate several trailheads into the city centre as part of their “City to Country Trails Initiative.” Fisher says the pandemic has impacted this in good and bad ways.

“Awareness and appreciation of trails for a community’s mental wellbeing has soared, but temporary heavy use of some trails on private property has caused the club to temporarily shut down trails to preserve landowner relationships,” he said.

“The pandemic has reaffirmed our direction to reveal and manage some underdeveloped recreational trail opportunities within Guelph, particularly maximizing the natural beauty of the river systems.”

Recent improvements and developments include an agreement with the University of Guelph and Cutten Fields that allows the club to manage and improve an existing trail from Gordon Street to Victoria Road, and to develop two new connecting trail links: The Arboretum Side Trail, which links the Cutten Fields and city trails to the Arboretum with built stairs, and another connection from James Street to Marianne’s Park. The club is also working with the city to bring the Speed River trailhead from the Humane Society closer to the skate park on Wellington Road, and to make improvements to The Rapids Side Trail – an informal community trail that is a bit rough, but offers beautiful river views.

“This footpath [follows] some very scenic rapids of the Speed from near Mac Ave to near Goldie Mill, which we want to make safer and more accessible,” said Fisher, adding that the GHTC has secured an agreement with the landowner and is now finalizing improvements to the trail. Further anticipated approvals by the Grand River Conservation Authority and the city will enable other connections to complete the trail. 

Fisher says a large part of the club’s work is engaging with community members and stakeholders to come up with cost-effective and less time-consuming alternatives to long-term city planning projects, including developing a logical link from the downtown core to the Kissing Bridge trailhead, which marks the start of the Guelph to Goderich (G2G) Rail Trail.

Membership in the GHTC supports the club’s initiatives and pays for maintenance, insurance and administration of club activities. Prior to the pandemic, the club led around 150 hikes a year, and will continue to organize these guided, group hikes as soon as it is safe in accordance with government guidelines.

To learn more about the club and become a member or to make a donation, visit the GHTC website or Facebook page.