$1 Million Pledged to Connect St. Stephen to Trans Canada Trail

Celebrating the announcement of a $1 million grant to connect St. Stephen with the Trans Canada Trail are (left to right) Darren Turner, head of an Executive Subcommittee that has been lobbying for the project, Poul Jorgensen of Sentiers/Trails N.B., John Ames, New Brunswick Minister of Tourism, and Robert Poirier of Trailblazers. (Photo courtesy of Robert Poirier)

By Lura Jackson

 

In a momentous occasion for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant announced on January 3rd at the Garcelon Civic Center in St. Stephen that the province is committing $1 million to connecting St. Stephen with the Trans Canada trailhead in St. John. The connection is a key part of a larger vision that will see the Trans Canada Trail connected with the East Coast Greenway, thereby creating the longest trail in the world.

The project, referred to as the International East Coast Greenway Trail, is seen as an important economic investment that will take advantage of the lucrative outdoor recreational tourism industry. “We are investing to advance our multi-year economic growth plan to create job opportunities for New Brunswickers,” said Premier Brian Gallant. “We are investing in the International East Coast Greenway Trail project as it will help advance our multi-year tourism growth strategy.”

“It just makes sense,” said Robert Poirier of Trailblazers, one of the primary organizers in achieving the connection in St. Stephen. “When people find out that the Trans Canada Trail is right there, and the East Coast Greenway trail is right there, and we’re literally the missing link, it’s a no-brainer.” Poirier was initially surprised by the announcement but said that he had been working on the project with John Ames, Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture Minister and a former student of the retired teacher. “John obviously managed to get the Premier’s ear to the point that they were ready to move forward.”

Ames shares Poirier’s enthusiasm for the trail. “Signature projects like the International East Coast Greenway Trail create a unique and memorable experience for visitors and reflect the cultural and natural landscape of New Brunswick,” he said.

The funds are allocated to rehabilitate 36 miles of trail between St. Stephen and St. John, much of which is along the former shoreline railbed. The railbed is grown over in some areas, and sections of it are now privately owned – “So there will be a delicate diplomatic dance to acquire easements,” Poirier recognizes. Once the easements are acquired and the trail is brought up to functionality, however, the connection will be in place.

Dillon Consulting has been retained to perform the environmental planning and community outreach to determine how the trail should best proceed. Per Poirier, he is encouraging the planners to utilize the existing trail systems in Maine as a resource to build upon. “What we need to do over there in St. Stephen is replicate what you’ve done here, so it’s kind of a seamless crossing,” Poirier said. Of particular interest is how the Maine trails have both a road-bicycling path in the form of the forthcoming Bold Coast Bikeway and an off-road path in the form of the East Coast Greenway. “That’s just critical,” Poirier said. “Then we can appeal to both segments of the cycling population.”

The 36-mile trail segment will be named the “All Saints Coastal Trail”, or the “ASCoT” for short, in recognition of how many of the communities along its route are named after saints. The railbed has historic significance in that it was the last contact with the United States that many troops had before they went overseas in World War II. Rather than beginning their trip overseas in the states and risk being attacked by German U-Boats, the troops took the railway to the North and left from Cape Breton. 

When the nearly 15,000-mile Trans Canada Trail is linked with the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway Trail, the result will be a path that will enable travelers to bike, ski, snowshoe, or walk from Key West, Florida to the Arctic Ocean on an epic route that encompasses everything from metropolises to remote wilderness. 

Bike trails and bike tourism in general is among the leading kinds of recreational tourism, prompting the development of BikeMaine, the East Coast Greenway and the Bold Coast Bikeway in recent years. Seeing that development was among the spurs that inspired Poirier to press forward with the project. “We’re late to the dance,” Poirier said, referring to St. Stephen. “These people are already dancing, and they’re good at it, and we’re just poking our nose in the door.”

The collaboration could yield additional developments in the future, with one possibility being an international park trail that stretches specifically between Acadia National Park and Fundy National Park. 

While there is a lot to be done to complete the connection, Poirier regards the announcement as being pivotal in directing attention to the project. “This announcement has really encouraged people to get down off the fence so we can start planning for this now,” Poirier said. “That’s the really exciting part, seeing the folks that we’re going to need to get engaged saying ‘Okay, what do we need to do?’”