/Friends of the Rail Trail celebrates the village
FoRT Chairwoman Pamela Marsales is pictured at the SIRCH Bistro, where the group is hosting a celebratory event and discussion on March 6./ Submitted photo

Friends of the Rail Trail celebrates the village

By Stephen Petrick

All aboard: It’s time to start thinking about the Haliburton County Rail Trail again.

The organization that supports the trail, Friends of the Rail Trail (FoRT), is holding a celebratory meeting to get people talking about how they can contribute to the 35-km pathway, which is steeped in history and beautiful by nature.

The event, titled It Takes A Village, takes place from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 6 at SIRCH Bistro, at 49 Maple Ave.

FoRT is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and this will be its first in-person meeting in more than two years, as a result of the pandemic.

Chairwoman Pamela Marsales stressed that the event is not a fundraiser. The organization just asks that participants make a donation to FoRT if they can. Also, anyone can attend; the event is not limited to members. However, people are asked to pre-register by contacting Marsales at 705-457-4767 or pamela.marsales@gmail.com.

The goal of FoRT is to get the community excited about supporting and preserving the trail. 

“Our mandate is connecting the community to the rail trail,” Marsales said.

The trail is owned by Haliburton County. It extends from the village of Haliburton to Kinmount. It then connects with other trails that travel south to Lindsay.

To say that the trail plays an important role in the history of Haliburton would be an understatement.

“The railway helped to create the County of Haliburton,” Marsales said. “There was no county of Haliburton before they decided to build a railway there.”

She explained that the trail covers a railway line that operated from 1878 to 1978, and often moved lumber to more southern communities. In 1988 the tracks were removed and it became a recreational trail. FoRT then formed in 2007 and began holding events to help the community support the trail, focussing on its history and how it provides important green spaces that can be used by people of all ages and abilities. The trail is mostly flat and has gravel and sand surfaces, so it’s not considered a tricky route.

Marsales says she loves it because it has “two historic railway bridges, lots of wetlands, and lots of opportunity to view wildlife.”

The trail has become an important meeting place for community members, through programs such as the Sunday Ramblers, which has, for years, brought people together to hike areas of the trail.

Marsales said that program led to great community get-togethers where trail users would discuss ideas. The trail became “like the old fashioned village green, where people would meet their neighbours casually. That became the hallmark of Friends of the Rail Trail.”

The Sunday Ramblers program is expected to continue this year, with 15 rambles planned. Those who have ideas for themes of the walk are encouraged to let FoRT know.

The It Takes A Village event will start with the showing of a documentary called “The Caledon Trailway, Building the Dream.”

It tells the story of how the Caledon community stepped up to improve a similar rail trail in their area and it should serve as inspiration for Haliburton County Rail Trail users. Next, there will be a discussion on what FoRT can do to catch up after two lost years due to the pandemic. And then, finally, there’s the supper, provided by SIRCH and its executive director Gena Robertson.

Marsales said that when FoRT holds events, there are educational components, but the events are mostly social in nature, as they’re designed to bring like-minded trail users together to discuss how to preserve and promote the trail.

“It’s an opportunity to build on FoRT’s fifteen years and create something lasting for the future,” Marsales said, in a statement.