Connect the Gap: Economic Opportunity on the Eastern Shore

This year, over 1.1 million visitors are flocking to Park Lineaire’s Le P’tit Train du Nord (Quebec) to cycle along the 232km converted rail trail. From near and far, visitors come and support a network of communities, B&Bs, Inns, restaurants, campgrounds, and activities such as water sports and golfing. The flat, off-road trail allows riders to experience nature with ease and comfort, attracting a broad demographic of visitors.

Nature, history and costal activities attract many tourists to Nova Scotia, but is it time to offer a new way of exploring the area? Adapting abandoned railroads into recreational paths is common practice, however, like in the case of Le P’tit Train du Nord, connecting long routes and building up innovative tourism services en route can create substantial economic growth. The old Musquodoboit train line is a prefect opportunity for the Eastern Shore to assert itself as a similar destination.

This isn’t just a feasible possibility; it’s a prefect storm of opportunity.

As stated in the 2013 Ivany Report, (One Nova Scotia Now or Never) Nova Scotia is “in the early stages of what may be a prolonged period of accelerating population loss and economic decline.” Nova Scotia needs change. The study cited entrepreneurship and tourism as areas in which the province could generate growth. The province has spent millions reopening the Yarmouth-Maine ferry service. However while the ferry allows tourists to arrive, it doesn’t provide a reason to come to Nova Scotia. A rail trail network could be a one of many innovations to increase the provinces tourist appeal.

Internationally, tourists are creating a growing demand for active tourism. Many retirees, young families, and young professionals are seeking a vacation that’s unique, healthy and green. This trend can be seen in the growth of eco tourism, adventure vacations and activity destinations. This new type of tourist is exactly the type that Nova Scotia should be targeting. Tourism Nova Scotia’s main objective is to attract more visitors, who spend more and stay longer. A 2012 report from Ryerson concluded that cycling tourists’ travel slower, travel longer and stop more; putting more money into local economies. Attracting cycling tourists require well-maintained trails, complementary services and centralised marketing.

Le P’tit Train du Nord success is derived from their unified non-profit corporation that oversees the trail and services. The communities along the trail created the corporation to pool resources and labour for efficiency and continuity. The corporation allows cyclists to experience the area with ease and enjoyment while ensuring that local concerns are heard and met. Buses deliver luggage along route and ferry cyclists back to their vehicles when they’ve completed their tour. The corporation also is responsible for trail maintenance, keeping the area clean and safe. This set up allowed for locals of the small Quebec towns to create livelihoods for themselves by meeting the demands of a new influx of visitors.

This economic success is also seen closer to home. The Confederation Trail on P.E.I was completed in 2000; 434 km of trails now connect the Island. In 2012, an economic impact study made the following conclusions: between June -Sept of 2012 approximately 18 000 individuals used the trail. These users brought in more than 2.7 million dollars and stayed longer than other tourists. Almost 69% of the trail users planned to visit the trail before arriving to the area. Well-maintained, peaceful and connected trails not only keep tourists around for longer but attract new tourists. Unlike Le P’tit Train du Nord, the Confederation Trail is run by the provincial government, which forms a unified vision and oversees the trail. Indeed the trail system is not only part of the Trans Canada Trail network but also a uniquely shaped provincial park.

The old Musquodoboit Railway line is not only an ideal opportunity, it is already mostly developed. Departing from Dartmouth, the Shearwater Flyer Trail takes riders by the Salt Marsh Trail and Atlantic View Trail to Lawrencetown Beach then onto the Blueberry Run Trail as far as Porters Lake at Exit 20. A major trail gap of 15km stretches between Porters Lake to Musquodoboit Harbour. The Musquodoboit Harbour Trail then runs up to Gibraltar. Of almost 80km of needed trail, 75% is already functional. Effort to connect the main gap is being advocated by two local groups: Shore Active Transportation Association and Musquodoboit Trailways Association.

Some may argue that turning the Eastern Shore into a tourist destination will ruin the area’s natural beauty and secluded privacy, but the Eastern Shore is developing and growing regardless. So the question the community should be asking is: how to grow and still preserve the beauty? Unified and connected parks and trails ease maintenance and security. They also frequently improve property values and rental potential. By developing a trail system, the community invests value in nature.

Support for this type of development is currently available on provincial and federal levels. Grants and funding are available for active living projects, tourism development and economic stimulus. By capitalizing on funding available, like that of Trans Canada Trails and Connect2, the Eastern Shore could have much of the cost of trail development subsidized. But while the money might be available, all development needs the voice of their communities to push for change. Many local community groups are championing this vision within their area. However the relentless work of many volunteer groups must be replaced with a unified corporation that can create continuity and efficiency.

To learn more or show support for this type of development contact your local representative or join local organizations like Shore Active Transportation Association, Musquodoboit Trailways Association, Our HRM Alliance, Bike Nova Scotia’s Blue Route and REBA.

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