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Grand Bay West trail re-imagined

New vision includes four distinct zones, better paths and amenities

Rachael Fitkowski presented the new, recommended design for the Grand Bay West Trail at the Bruce II Sports Centre last Wednesday evening. – © Rosalyn Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Rosalyn Roy Senior Staff Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — Residents spoke, and Rachael Fitkowski listened. Fitkowski is a landscape architect with Mills & Wright, based out of St. John’s, and she was tasked with drafting recommendations for a new trail network system for Grand Bay West. The Grand Bay West trail used to start at the parking lot near the beach at the end of Kyle Lane. Hikers would start at the elevated wooden boardwalk and trace the shoreline on gravel paths to enjoy the spectacular ocean views, but Hurricane Fiona splintered that boardwalk thanks to record breaking 2.73 metre storm surges, did the same to the rest of the trail infrastructure, including the lookout points, and also reshaped the entire beachhead. Fitkowski visited the area and walked what remained of the trail system, performed careful research, checked municipal and provincial regulations, solicited public feedback, and kept in mind the town’s mandate to redesign and rebuild the trail while bearing in mind the need to adapt and mitigate for climate change and future large scale weather events. On Wednesday evening, Nov. 8, Fitkowski presented a slideshow report sharing the redesign to a small crowd of about a dozen people, including residents of Kyle Lane, representatives from the town, and MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile). “The Grand Bay West area specifically is also covered under what’s called the Municipal Stewardship Agreement, and that specifically protects wetlands and coastline and their associated biodiversity,” began Fitkowski. ” There’s annual average temperatures that are increasing. Hurricanes and tropical storms are occurring more frequently. There’s coastal erosion, sea level rise, and then storm surges impact coastal areas.” Fitkowski stated that she did agree with all of the public feedback she received, including concern about accessibility for those with mobility issues, the difficulty of walking on the loose gravel portions, and worries about overnight parking on Kyle Lane causing further damage to an already vulnerable area. The overall goal was not just to design a new trail system, but to rebuild it in a resilient and sustainable way, making it even more robust to ensure greater longevity while still showcasing the area’s natural beauty. This approach is also designed to allow the area to heal naturally from the damage caused by Fiona. The report recommended a network of four distinct zones, all will connected to form a larger system and even link to the provincial T’Railway, although motorized vehicles will not be possible on the Grand Bay West trails. Zone A begins at Christopher’ Path, where there is already an informal parking area, but plenty of land for the town to build a dedicated parking lot. That section currently has an elevated wooden footpath as it skirts the lake, but it does end and those with mobility issues have to turn around. Fitkowski recommends continuing to skirt the entirety of the lake, parallel to Hopedale Avenue behind the municipal depot and other businesses, until reconnecting with Grand Bay West Road. The footpath will continue on top of the armour stone that the town plans to lay down to reinforce the causeway before returning to the parking area and closing the loop. Zone B is the Hopedale Avenue Hub, which is intended to be the main entryway to the Grand Bay West trail system. Fitkowski estimates there is room for a 30 vehicle parking lot, an elevated lookout, bigger and more readily accessible washroom facilities that can hook straight into existing town infrastructure as opposed to a septic system as currently exists at the Kyle Lane parking lot. “It’s quite well connected because you’re kind of right in the middle, at the end of Christopher’s path, but about halfway to First Beach, and you’re pretty close to Second Beach from that location as well. So we think there’s a lot of value in that there’s some footpaths that existed there, but actually developing that into part of the trail network and then actually having Hopedale Avenue be the main kind of entry point for the whole trail system. We know that the Kyle Lane Trailhead, currently there’s like water that sits on there at certain times, like high tide. It’s a really vulnerable area now that some of those sand dudes have washed away. So it just seems tricky to recommend more development in that area and kind of upkeep of that area when we have an area like this, which is like, on much higher ground,” said Fitkowski, who envisions the Hub as a tourist attraction. “It also is kind of a nice accessibility feature, because if someone maybe can’t walk all the different trails, you can kind of drive right up and go down a short trail and still get to take in the awesome views of Grand Bay West. But there’s still a lot of connectivity options as well to connect over to Christopher’s Path, to connect down to First Beach.” Fitkowski calls Zone C “The Neck” and at first glance it looks similar to the trail network that existed prior to Hurricane Fiona. While it is similar, the recommendation is that this section be built much higher, which will offer much better views and not further stress the already damaged shoreline, but hiker will still be able to walk down to the shore at certain points too. “You could have some little branches that come off, though, down to some of the nice cove areas or where some of the older lookouts were, but just not as much. The lookouts that were there were quite intense and a lot of infrastructure. I don’t think that’s necessary, because then if something were to happen in the future, we haven’t put all this money into a lookout there.” Zone D is called the Connector, and will run from Christopher’s Path through town-owned land until the two trails are linked. “But as the subdivision grows, we think there’s a lot of value in providing trail access there ,so that people could leave their community and just walk to the trail and not even have to get in their car. And you’re connecting to another existing trail in the community too, which making those connections is always a great idea.” The trailbed itself has different design options, depending on terrain. Elevated boardwalks over bog will ensure it’s kept accessible, and there are also geosynthetic and granular options for other areas. Wooden boardwalks can be constructed as usual, with concrete footings, but there is another option to screw footings straight into the terrain and build on top of them. Geosynthetic is used in semi-wet areas. “So it may be an area where you only have a little bit of boggy wet area, and then you kind of hit some drier material. The geosynthetic is a fancy word for a landscape fabric, and those basically help with three major functions, so separation, drainage, and reinforcement. And it just helps keep all the materials that you’re bringing in to build your trail from kind of dissipating into the landscape around it. So again, just trying to give the town a best practice of here’s how this trail could be built to last longer into the future.” Granular will be a tighter, easier walking surface than the gravel used before and friendlier to those using mobility aids, and some sections such as the unofficial footpaths can be left to their natural sandy state. When discussing accessibility, Fitkowski recommended that trails be widened to accommodate two wheelchairs abreast of each other, with boards running along the ledges of the wooden boardwalk sections so as to prevent people from falling off. Part of the trail that intersect with roadways, such as Zone A and D, will require upgraded crosswalks, and the whole network will need rest areas, and waste receptacles. Signage should include a network map, clear postings at intersections, and the town may wish to pursue interpretative interpretation signs where hikers can scan a QR code with their smartphone to download or hear information about the trail. Maintaining it through the winter months so that people can use it year round is a decision the town will have to make. “Okay, so maintenance, we talked about this a little bit already, but it is a very important part of this whole work. So regular maintenance ensures a successful and sustainable trail. So currently the town doesn’t have a scheduled maintenance program for the trail, and the repairs are kind of completed on an as needed basis or like at the start of the season. So we do think that there should be an ongoing trail maintenance program. We have proposed a draft one, like a sample one in the book, in the report, that speaks to the different emptying the waste bins, checking the boardwalk for loose boards, checking the sign for vandalism.” The cost will not be cheap. Fitkowski broke down the data into three columns: the effort that will be required to do it, the impact it will have on the trail through residential and tourism engagement, and the projected financial cost for each zone. Zone A is projected to require a medium effort, will have a high impact, and cost approximately $200,870 to complete. Zone B is estimated at a high effort to undertake, since the Hub will require all new infrastructure, but will also entice more tourists, so it is also projected to have a high impact. That is estimated to cost $641,580. Zone C is projected to require medium effort, have a medium impact, and come in at around $414,900. Zone D is projected to require a high effort, but until the subdivision is built will only have a low impact. Once the subdivision is complete, it will be high impact, and is projected to cost $401,000. As part of the report, Fitkowski also included possible sources of federal and provincial funding to help offset the cost to taxpayers. There are also climate change an green funding that may be available. The recommendation suggests picking one zone or part of a zone and focusing on that while awaiting more funding or fundraising to complete future work. Whatever happens next, Fitkowski said that it’s important to seize the moment and move into the next phase of this project. “We have proposed ways to phase it so that there’s different pieces that you could kind of have bite sized pieces to pick away at over the years, so that maybe in ten years it’s realized, or 15 years. But there’s a lot of different factors at play, including funding and also different roles and responsibilities. So it’s really important that the town kind of take the support and almost have a champion for it to make sure that it doesn’t just sit on the shelf. And then there’s obviously a lot of grants and funding out there that are available, but someone has to write those. That’s a lot of work as well.” The report is currently available to download at:

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