East Coast Trail : The Preservation & Protection Challenge

Spurwink Island Path

Gord Follett

May 22, 2009

East Coast Trail : The Preservation & Protection Challenge

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Objective:
To secure and maintain the level of protection and recognition required to ensure the long-term survival of the 540 km East Coast Trail.

The Challenge:
Public Access & Rights-of-way to the East Coast Trail are unprotected and fragile at best. Existing provincial legislation and municipal land use planning and management offer inadequate or no protection for the Trail and our coastal lands. The hard reality is no one single government department is responsible for the overall protection, preservation, and management of our coastal lands. Land use planning and management is the responsibility of the municipalities. It is left solely to the discretion of each town and currently there are no provincial or regional policies, standards and guidelines for coastal management and protection. In addition, the 15 meter coastal reserve supported by the Lands Act offers no meaningful protection for the Trail. The 15 meter measure, above the high water mark, seldom reaches the cliff edge, and in cases where it does, the slope of land does not support a hiking trail.

The Current Status:
The Association has actively worked with the towns of the Northeast, Southern and Western Avalon over the past fourteen years to secure a trail protection solution within the Town Plans of the thirty communities located along the Trail. The results achieved to date are: 1) Most town plans formally recognize the Trail, understand its economic and recreational value, include general statements of support regarding the protection & preservation of the Trail; and 2) All efforts to seek an effective, long-term, town plan based protection standard for the Trail has yet to be achieved.

The Association has also been actively working with the Province to identify a trail protection solution and strategy that will address the needs of the Province, the Towns and landowners, while providing for the long-term survival of the Trail. The results achieved to date are: 1) the Province recognizes that the East Coast Trail is a major tourism and recreational product, a destination hiking trail; 2) A provincial government Working Group representing six departments was formed in early 2008 to address the trail protection requirements; and 3) The Working Group delivered a draft proposed trail protection solution set in November 2008. The Working Group includes the following government departments: Tourism, Recreation & Culture; Municipal Affairs; Environment & Conservation; Natural Resources, Justice; and Innovation, Trade & Rural Development.

In addition, the Trail is experiencing a rapid increase in the number of new and potential developments over the past four years that are actively pushing on the Trail in all coastal communities. The cumulative impact of this trend continues to intensify, it is significant and poses a serious threat that will negatively impact the Trail if left unchecked.

The Bottom Line:
The town planning process has provided the towns and the Association with the opportunity to get to know and understand each other and to build a solid and supportive working relationship. A Town Plan protection solution for the Trail, however, is subject to the mandate of each individual council, and while the Councils are supportive, progress is limited by the development pressures and resource constraints of each community.

The Association’s fifteen year relationship with the Province has produced a solid partnership to develop and maintain the East Coast Trail. The Province has recognized and confirmed that the Trail is a major tourism and recreational product that is making a significant social, economic, and environmental contribution to the province. The Province is aware of the development pressures, the limitations of existing legislation, and the need to implement a trail protection solution.

In the Fall of 2007 all towns (with town plans) wrote to the Province expressing their concern regarding the lack of protection for the Trail and the need for the Province to take the necessary corrective action to secure the Trail. In March 2008 the provincial Working Group was formed to work with the Association to find a solution.

The Opportunity / the Northeast Avalon Regional Plan:
One of the critical elements of the trail protection solution set, recommended by the provincial Working Group, is the Northeast Avalon Regional Plan. The Northeast Avalon covers the 160 km section of Trail between Topsail Beach and Witless Bay.

The Department of Municipal Affairs, in partnership with 15 municipalities in the St. John’s Urban Region, is undertaking a review of the St. John’s Urban Region Regional Plan. This new plan, known as the Northeast Avalon Regional Plan (NEAR Plan), will guide development and decision making within the region over the next 25 years. It will be a provincial government policy document that will provide a vision for the future and set out land use planning goals and objectives for the region.

The NEAR Planning process provides the Association with an opportunity to work with the Province and the Towns to seek the provincial policies, standards and guidelines for coastal management and trail protection required for the long-term survival of the East Coast Trail. The trail protection solution acquired under this planning process will become the standard for all twelve Northeast Avalon towns located along the Trail. A regional solution underwritten by the Province and managed by the Dept. of Municipal Affairs together with the Towns.

This is an opportunity there are no guarantees.

The Association must effectively engage in this process in order to make a difference and obtain the level of protection required to support the long-term sustainability of the Trail within the Northeast Avalon. Once the NEAR Trail Protection Standard has been established we will work with the Province and the eighteen Towns of the Southern and Western Avalon to adopt the same standard across the remaining 280 km of Trail.

Please also read our president’s call for support and the associations Statement of Principles for the NEAR Plan. We have listed the NEAR meeting times and details in our events section.