Heritage Lives: How Merritt Island’s Nature Trails Developed

By Terry Hughes

In 1983, Mike Franklin, project director for Public Works Canada, indicated that Merritt Island was to be the place for a number of development sites that would include nature trails. A group of university students using the title, Nature Development Project, under the supervision of the Welland Canal Advisory Group was to research the plant and wildlife that inhabited the island and develop trails as a way that people could enjoy them at their leisure. To organize the trails, the Grade 6  Environmental Studies Unit for the Niagara South Board of Education was used.

The trails were called Willow Walk, Wildflower Trail and Forest Track. A variety of places of interest on each were highlighted with red posts and a number on each. The numerals were painted blue, yellow and green to designate the three different trails. A booklet was published for each trail as a guide for use for elementary students as well as the general public. The booklets were a temporary issue until a more formalized issue were to be made. Unfortunately, they were never published because the federal election of 1984 halted all projects and they were later cancelled. 

Over time the trails were neglected until 1994 when the renewed Welland Canal Parkway Development Board was constituted. With the assistance of the Niagara Conservation Authority, some management was renewed but the trails were left on their own.

 As a member of a committee made up of the city, the office of our Speaker of the House of Commons, Gib Parent and the Welland Business and Community Development Corporation, a Millennial Project to clean up Merritt Island was instituted. It would involve three high schools (Eastdale, Centennial, Notre Dame) as noted in the accompanying poster. In 2003, after five weekends of cleanup supported with plenty of pizza and pop the job got done. Efforts by the newly-created Welland Recreational Canal Corporation (WRCC) under Mayor Cindy Forster to involve local schools for maintenance of the island as a way to establish ownership by students of a local asset were not successful.       

What more can be said about the trails on Merritt Island (now owned by the City of Welland). They have acted as ambassadors for numerous triathlons as well as a pleasant place to enjoy the wonderful assets that it offers. Luckily, it serves as a reminder of what we could have had if politics of the time had been in our favour. 

Next Column:  Developing A Historical Tour Guide For Welland’s Canal.

(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

(File photos/Joe Barkovich)

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