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Building a world class regional trail network

Andrew Parsons was inspired during a trail walk last summer. – Submitted photo

By Rosalyn Roy

SOUTHWEST COAST – MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) has a few projects he’s focusing on for 2022, starting with a regional trail network. There are a lot of existing trails in the area, and linking them and building new ones is something he’s already begun working on.

“It seems like we’ve got buy-in from everybody that’s gotten in touch with us,” said Parsons via phone interview last week. “Now we’re working on sort of the procedural side.”

That includes finding a consultant and financing, although there’s no official committee to oversee the endeavour.

“I didn’t know if it was necessary to have an official committee where I’m dealing with municipalities,” said Parsons. “It’s very much going to be a group effort, and in no way, shape or form is this going to be just a municipal effort.”

Parsons plans to stay heavily involved to help keep this project moving forward. He’s taken a personal interest, having gotten the idea while out on a trail walk.

“It was a moment that struck me while I was on a trail this summer, and I was like, ‘My God. We’ve got these fantastic trails here’,” said Parsons. “There’s so much beauty and scenery and opportunity in this province. And we do have to put ourselves out there as an area.”

He foresees multiple layers of benefit for the Southwest Coast should the trail network become a reality.

On the T’Railway outside of Port aux Basques. – © Rosalyn Roy

“Number one, having the infrastructure, even if a single tourist doesn’t go on it, I think would be a great thing for local residents, spanning from one end of it to the other – basically from Rose Blanche right up to Codroy Valley. The second thing, though, is that I also think it will be a tourism booster and driver. It will help to bring people to the area, and that results in spin offs and benefits to everybody else.”

Parson’s vision can easily prompt comparisons to the Skerwink Trail. Ranked among the 35 best trails in North America and Europe in 2003, Skerwink has helped turn Port Rexton into an eco-tourism destination. Ideally this initiative will bring in more tourism dollars by helping local operators build similar eco-packages and launch businesses around the Southwest Coast’s regional trail network.

“That is absolutely one of the trails that I refer to when I talk about it,” admitted Parsons. “It takes a long time. That trail was decades in the making.”

The town of Channel-Port aux Basques will likely play the role of administrator, but Parsons cautions that is more for logistical purposes only. This will allow them to apply for funding and start on environmental studies and other ground work.

“This is absolutely for everybody to work together on, which again is one of the reasons why I’m so close to it. I don’t think one community should bear the brunt. I think everybody should share in the work and share in the success.”

That includes members of the public. Parsons advises interested parties to contact their town councils or district representatives, and said he’s pretty easy to find too.

“The more ideas the better.”

This is not the first time a regional trail network has been proposed for the Southwest Coast. Almost five years ago, Tourism Southwest held a presentation with stakeholders to outline the potential of a regional trail network. Although it triggered interest, there was little movement towards development until now. But Parsons believes that there are a number of factors that make this a good time to pursue it more vigorously.

“As big as it was in 2017, I think the idea of destination trails and tourism are even more important now. You have a bunch of newly-elected communities who are all coming with new mandates,” said Parsons, who was also re-elected last year. “You have a federal member (MP Gudie Hutchings, Long Range Mountains) who also happens to be the Minister for Rural and Economic Development, who is newly elected and would have some play in this.”

It will take everyone coming together to bring the regional trail network from concept to reality, but Parsons is confident it can be done.

“I think our Southwest Coast, the sum is greater than the parts, and we’ve all got this existing infrastructure. We’ve all got these amazing things, but a group effort and something that we can take together, build together and then market to the world, I think helps every community.”

The Skerwink Trail is recognized internationally, and Parsons is adamant that the Southwest Coast can get there too.

“We’ve got everything there to make us a world-class attraction. Sometimes it’s just about marketing it and developing it properly.”

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