John Rowswell Hub Trail Exceeds Expectations
Was there any doubt that the Hub Trail would succeed?
Five years ago, the Hub Trail planning was complete, thanks to a motivated recreation group led by Jim Miller and progressive planning team of Don McConnell and Steve Turco. Alas, Jim died suddenly before the plan was implemented. The first construction was, fittingly, a memorial on a hill near his home overlooking the trail and with a view as far-reaching as his vision for the trail.
In August 2015, I revisited the Hub Trail, renamed in honour of the former Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, John Rowswell, under whose watch the Hub Trail grew. The City bought into the concept of a year-round connected trail, 22km in length. It is complete. And, it is used. Used for not only recreation, but as an alternative to driving to work or for groceries. The evidence was seen in my overnight stay at the Delta, overlooking the waterfront portion of the Hub.
The planning Goal was a resounding “Get It Built” and premised on various objectives:
Sustainable/Constructable - The City would look for funding for this project and succeeded in many ways. Every new transportation project that was located on the Hub Trail route would include construction of the trail. Federal government funding was timely, with millions available to thrust the Hub Trail into the public eye. The public psyche was aroused which generated more interest and the Hub Trail flourished flush with Council’s approval for its completion. Public Acceptance became the sustainability factor. One of the most impressive achievements was the construction of two 3m wide metal bridges in Fort Creek Conservation Area. At the outset of planning, the projects seemed mired in the fact that the Conservation Authority did not have funds. The design team including Jim Miller, Steve Turco, Don McConnell and Mark Inglis spent hours and days within this deeply incised valley trying to discover the best route. It was the planners and Council who resolved to take the Hub Trail airborne. And the result is impressive! On a Saturday morning, Fort Creek was abuzz with walkers, cyclists and groups – assembling like never before the planning started. The worn paths that once relentlessly carved the understorey of this natural phenomenon disappeared as hikers stuck to the trail provided. And the views from the bridges – Spectacular!
Marketable - Fort Creek was only one successful result of the Hub Trail’s notoriety. Cycling has become innate to the locals. A couple I stopped said they visited just to ride the entire length of the Hub Trail. Bay Street, which was impassable by a pedestrian four years ago has become a tree-canopied route for walkers and cyclists between the waterfront and Bush Plane Museum. While in 2008, there seemed to be only one cyclist in SSM, Andre Riopel, Saturday August 8, 2015 evidenced that all ages have embraced this form of exercise and recreation. What a way to see the City! Water Tower Inn and Delta Hotel relentlessly promotes healthy living and eco-tourism. This year, I noticed a cycle shop in the Downtown that I did not remember from the planning stages. The Hub Trail is a saleable commodity.
Connected - The Hub Trail was designed to connect the major elements of the City of Sault Ste. Marie – hospital; city hall; waterfront; Fort Creek; schools. But its spokes complete the connection to the remainder of the City. Jim Miller’s memorial, just off the trail on Finn Hill draws trails folks into the neighbourhood that once was his domain. Schools have embraced the trail with connecting paths, no doubt to lead to educational experiences. And now, the grocery store is easier to access by foot and bike than by car. Why would you drive?
Educational - Attached to the trails are athletics, environment and art. Velorution opened a pump track, free to the public, but a great outlet for youth. The Hub Trail skirts the skateboard facility at Queen Elizabeth Park. By the hospital and on the Library grounds are examples of natural water treatment. Water is an educational feature demonstrating lake shipping and the use of ponds as water treatment facilities. And that Fort Creek land…. The waterfront is an art park, not unlike its contemporary in Windsor. It is at times whimsical and at other times descriptive of the City. Throughout the Hub Trail experience you can learn from the cairns and remnants of yesteryear the history of Sault Ste. Marie, the connecting Hub of two Great Lakes.
No longer the planner/designer, I was a tourist to Sault Ste. Marie. And the Hub Trail exceeded even my expectations. Congratulations, City of Sault Ste. Marie!