To most, it’s an overgrown track that appears to be on private property. But to Mark Andrews, it’s a precious public waterfront trail that must be saved.
The old road right-of-way between Mike Weir Park and the Cull Drain in Bright’s Grove is indeed public property, the city says, but it can’t be used as a walking or biking path without rehabilitation.
It’s covered in brush and interrupted by wooden decks and even a concrete block boathouse built by one of the 25 or so adjacent landowners.
“The homeowners along there have used the right-of-way for the last 40 years like it’s their own,” said Andrews. “They each have 66 feet of land that they use tax free. It hasn’t been used by the public for a long time.”
The 30-year-old process operator has lived in Bright’s Grove all his life and has fond childhood memories of visiting the Cull Drain Bridge, where the lost right-of-way starts. The bridge was removed in 2014, but a citizen group hoping to restore the historic structure has saved its trusses.
“When I heard the argument that the Cull Drain Bridge wasn’t important because it leads to nowhere, that’s when I learned about the public right-of-way that would lead to it if there was no encroachment,” Andrews said.
He started a Facebook group this month called Save the Old Lakeshore Right-of-Way. It attracted 23 supporters its first week and prompted someone to post a notice in the Bright’s Grove post office calling for the return of the half-mile walkway for public use.
“This public waterfront path is in jeopardy of being lost forever,” Andrews notes on Facebook, “and we need to fight for it.”
The right-of-way accommodated Old Lakeshore Road until parts of the road were washed into Lake Huron by a violent storm in 1973.
Once the “new” Lakeshore Road opened inland to reconnect Sarnia with The Grove, the former Sarnia Township left the property owners to fend for themselves.
Over the past 40 years, they have installed shoreline protection at their own expense, and added fences and decks on the right-of-way. In fact, little remains today to suggest a road ever existed there.
It’s not lost on Andrews that igniting citizen interest in reopening the public right-of-way would reinforce the need for a bridge over the Cull Drain.
“If the trail is saved, there’s another reason to save the bridge,” he said.
Steve Loxton is a resident pushing hard to save the Cull Drain Bridge.
“I’ll always advocate saving public land. That right-of-way is really tough to walk right now because of the terrain,” he said.
Loxton insists saving the bridge and reclaiming the right-of-way are two different issues, but he also sees the connection.
“It’s become a Catch 22,” he said. “There’s not much reason to preserve the right-of-way if the bridge isn’t put back, and there’s not much reason to put the bridge back if there’s no right-of-way.”
“I understand where the property owners are coming from to have taken over the road, but they shouldn’t have.
“It’s difficult and it’s frustrating,” said Loxton.