Introduced in the Ontario legislature in May, Bill 100 entitled “Supporting Ontario Trails Act” has attracted attention from rural landowners whose properties border or converge on these public routes. According to Paul Wettlaufer, Director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), trail-related easements are entirely voluntary under the proposed legislation. He advises that rural Ontario property owners should feel no obligation to agree to an easement on their properties for recreational trail use. If they choose to allow access to their land, landowners may do so for a specific period of time such as seasonal access or a year-long basis for a term of their own choosing. While satisfied that there is choice in the matter, the OFA has made it clear that other aspects of this legislation fall short, in particular fines for trespassing are inadequate and outlines for trail operator practises are considered too vague.
Ontario landowners have a long history of providing access to the public through their land, with easements crossing through farms related to abandoned railways, hiking trails and seasonal snowmobile trails. Recreational trails present unique challenges to Ontario farmers, but with the exercise of respect and common sense, everyone will continue to enjoy the rich, natural beauty of our countryside.
By Karen Graham