Oh, the excitement of those early days of the Prime Meridian Trail! We had our
grand opening in 1995. We began to run Family Fun Days here in Grosse Isle in
cooperation with the Prairie Dog Central Railway. We put up big army tents as
there was no shelter at the site at this time. There must have been a dozen of us volunteers wrestling with those tents and having a great time of camaraderie and fun! On one occasion we fitted out a flat bed railway car to carry bicycles, and a group of people came out with their bikes. For two hours while the train was at the site, they rode bikes to Hwy 67 and back. Those were heady days!
We started conducting tours for the Prairie Dog on the seven and a half acres of tall grass prairie found just north of the site at Grosse Isle in the wye. We had
groups of schoolchildren come out on the train and I recall one occasion where a grade four class from an inner city school came to visit us. I got on the train and told them the story of the buffalo hunt. When we arrived at the prairie, I organized them into two groups, one group were buffalo and the other the hunters. That was the most amazing experience for all who were there. Many of these children had never seen tall grass prairie in their life. What a scene, as they acted out their roles on that beautiful prairie.
We had some very wet years in 2004, and 2005. It is hard to imagine in this time of drought: every ditch and hollow was filled with water. North of Argyle to
Erinview and up to Inwood, the trails ran through some very large marshes.
Beavers were a real problem in those years as they would block up the culverts and stop the flow of water. Drainage was an issue because the terrain was so flat. In fact if there was a thunderstorm west of the trail, the water would run through the culverts to the east. If the storm was on the east side of the trail, the water would run in a westerly direction! Besides hiring a trapper, our best defense against the beaver was to put beaver deceivers on the ends of the culverts. These were basically wire cages that extended out into the marsh 10 to 12 feet and the beaver usually couldn’t figure out how to block them. Installing them was another matter as the water was very deep in the ditches on the edges of the trail. At one point we built a raft and we sent out a couple of young fellows (the sons of the president of the PMTA) to install them. Sometimes we would hire a tracked hoe and it was usually me riding in the bucket extended over a ditch filled with six or eight feet of water to install the beaver deceiver. That’s when you wanted to know that the operator was experienced and could handle his machine! We would also sometimes send him and his machine out into the marsh to open beaver dams. There must have been good footing underneath as the hoe would trundle through two or three feet of water to get to the beaver dam. I expected any minute for it to go under but that never happened.
In 2005 the Trail bought an International Cub tractor with a 4 foot side mounted sickle bar mower. It worked surprisingly well to brush along the sides of the trail. I had a spare knife and it required some maintenance to keep going but I managed to brush both sides of the trail for its entire length of 75 miles. I put in 1000 volunteer hours that year. When I was cutting brush, my daughter came with me and we camped at the museum at Chatfield. I have always dabbled in astronomy and there were the two of us just being mesmerized by the darkness and the beauty of those clear skies well away from the lights of the city. Talk about good times! I could go on all day to describe the rare and beautiful resources of the trail. I still marvel at the natural beauty it holds, the history it represents and its promise for the future.
The Prime Meridian Trail is designated as a non motorized trail. The insurance we hold requires us to do our best to keep motorized traffic off the trail. To that end we joined the provincial organization called Citizens on Patrol Program or COPP for short. People were given training and we had volunteers all along the trail. We soon got into other things as well, and we were one of the sources of
information for the police about a grow-op north of Inwood. You may recall the large operation that was being staffed by illegal immigrants. Subsequently, I became the provincial chair of the COPP program. During my tenure we developed a constitution and had a great conference in Gimli.
They say that all good things must come to an end. The Prime Meridian Trail
Association had been functioning with a gentleman’s agreement overseen by the Interlake Development Corporation. About this time the general manager of the IDC changed. The previous general manager had been very helpful and
supportive of the trail association and we’d made great progress over the years in developing the trail. When the management changed, everything changed. It was decided that the PMTA should sign a lease with IDC. We sought a legal opinion and it was suggested that the lease that was provided was not suitable and our association and ourselves could be at risk. We did not sign. We went through a series of tough negotiations in the winter of 05/06 and could not come to an agreement with IDC. Without an agreement the Association was at an unacceptable risk should anyone be injured on the trail. On June 30 2006, we retired to the three quarters of a mile of trail that we had leased from the Vintage Locomotive Society at Grosse Isle. We were not idle during this time and we attempted to come to a purchase agreement with IDC. The way things had been set up, all parties who had invested in the trail to start with needed to agree to its sale to us for a dollar. That included IDC, Niecom (now Community Futures) and the four municipalities, Rockwood, Woodlands, Armstrong and Fisher. Everyone agreed to the sale except for Armstrong. The sale did not happen.
Our next initiative was to try to have the trail designated as a provincial park. We thought it was a great idea to have a linear park running through the heart of the Interlake. So did a resident of Grosse Isle who happened to work for
Conservation and led the initiative to convince the government that this should happen. Unfortunately, the province did not agree.
IDC, Niecom, and the four municipalities formed a group called the Interlake Pioneer Trail Association and attempted to manage the trail. The representative from Rockwood who was part of the IPA was a councilor by the name of Jim Campbell. Jim persuaded the IPA to allow us to lease about 5 miles of trail in Rockwood municipality. We now manage the trail from Grosse Isle to HWY 67 and from just south of Argyle to the Prime Meridian road.
We continue to work closely with the Vintage Locomotive Society at Grosse Isle
providing tours of the prairie. We use our equipment to prepare the site for the
train robberies south of town. At Argyle, we worked with the school and have
improved access to the trail for the schoolchildren. We’re currently involved with the museum and have made a sizable donation to the development of train tracks and a tall grass prairie area at their site.
As for myself, I am leaving the board of the PMTA after 22 years of volunteering,
fifteen of which I was the trail manager. I’ve been busy promoting my book “of
Pork & Potatoes” and am working on a second book entitled, “Poets & Pioneers”
which I hope to publish next year. With the publication of “of Pork & Potatoes,” I
have moved on to the provincial stage in the hog factory barn battle. I’ve travelled around the province talking to people who live in the shadow of these barns. I’m really enjoying the opportunity the publication of my book has provided me.
I believe I leave the PMTA in a much better position and its mandate as a non-
motorized trail stronger than it has ever been. The trail is financially secure,
manageable, and with the recent addition of enthusiastic new board members, ready to continue the good work of the many loyal volunteers who’ve gone before.
So it’s time for me to move on. I have lots of nostalgic memories of people and
events on the trail over the years. I have no regrets and am grateful for all the
opportunities being part of the PMTA has given me.