Trail mix: Why the Watson nature trail is curiously incomplete

The Howard Watson Trail is a wonderful asset for local nature lovers and runs uninterrupted for 16 kilometres through Sarnia to Camlachie – or just about.

Where the former CN right-of-way meets Wellington Street the trail is suddenly blocked by a series of dirt mounds, worn into a bumpy path over the years.

So what’s up with that?

Oddly, when the trail was developed, CN transferred nearly its entire right-of-way to Sarnia but retained an 85-foot parcel of land on the north side of Wellington.

Perhaps railway brass thought the property fronting a major arterial road would be worth something someday, so held on to it.  In fact, city hall records show CN did eventually sell that parcel to a private owner who wanted to develop it.

Bill Abercrombie, representing a numbered company, was the applicant in 2006 who requested an Official Plan change to allow commercial development.

Former councillor and Bluewater Trails committee member Dick Carpani recalls the owner wanted to build a sporting goods store. The numbered company also made an offer to purchase a small strip of city-owned land next to the right-of-way.

Municipal records show that in 2006, the council of the day agreed to sell the adjacent strip and talked about a staff recommendation to use the proceeds for an asphalt path to circumvent the private property and connect Wellington Street to the Howard Watson trail.

The asphalt path was built near the Clearwater Arena, but it frequently floods in the spring to the chagrin of trail users.

The private property was never developed and dirt piles were brought in block trail access.

“The mounds of dirt are all about liability,” says Parks and Recreation director Ian Smith.  “The private property owner needs to discourage use of his land because he has a responsibility for people on his property.”

Smith said the interruption in trail bothers enough people to prompt two or three calls to city hall each year.

“We talked about buying the land but that never went anywhere,” he said. “The money has already been spent on the asphalt trail that goes around it.”

The railway also retained property where the right-of-way crosses London Road, near Teahen Home Hardware, said Carpani.

“But there’s never been any objection to us going through there. The only place I can think of where the trail was blocked is at Wellington.”

– Cathy Dobson