Bikers and hikers and just plain likers are giving a planned overhaul of the Howard Watson Nature Trail two big thumbs up.
“It’s fabulous, it’s a great investment in the community,” said Liz Rice, who was cycling the trail one day last week.
“I won’t ride my bike on the streets and this will make (the trail) even safer.”
A federal grant of $110,000 announced recently will be combined with matching funds from Bluewater Trails to restore the trail to its former glory, said committee chair Jared Fedora.
What’s more, Lambton County received an additional $75,000 grant from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program to make the trail’s east end – a badly overgrown stretch from Mandaumin Road to Camlachie – usable again.
“It’s really fantastic how these projects are able to capitalize on the same grant money, to make one smooth connection, eventually all the way to Grand Bend,” Fedora said.
The nature trail is a 16-kilometre linear park that follows a former rail line through the city.
Money will be use to broaden it to a standard eight-foot width, and graded to even out ruts and dips and soft spots. The surface will be finished with a fine granular material called limestone screening to make it smooth.
Packed limestone makes a hard surface for walkers, runners and wheelchairs, yet is easier to repair and costs about half as much as asphalt pavement, Fedora said.
“My contention is it’s a nature trail, not a highway. If you put asphalt in there you’ll have cyclists just motoring through.”
New trail gates that provide easy access but keep out motorized vehicles will also be addresses, along with new signage, he said.
The work could begin as early as this fall.
“Long term, we want to see more connectivity with Blackwell Park, Cathcart Park and various ponds and other things along the way.”
Sarnia’s Bill and Dorothy Knight were using a section between Blackwell and Telfer Road last week. It’s been reduced to little more than a footpath in places and often floods after a rain, they said.
A wider trail will allow cyclists to ride side by side again, Dorothy Knight said.
“This is an excellent idea. We’ve been waiting for this for 20 years.”
The ultimate goal is to hook Sarnia-Lambton into Canada’s Waterfront Trail, which has 1,600 kilometres stretching around the shores of the lower Great Lakes and connects 75 communities with parks, forests and beaches.
“It’s really fascinating how everyone is working together to do it,” Fedora said. “Sarnia is such a key piece, and now we are finally able to act on it.”