A safety measure by a local railway company is not being received favourably by frequent users of a waterfront trail system located on the shores of Lake Nipissing.
Earlier this week, a community member contacted BayToday, wondering why a fence had recently been erected blocking access to the trail to the lake. The trail in question is located past the intersection of Jet Avenue and 10th Street in North Bay, beyond the parking lot of the Apollo Gymnastics Club. The trail traverses Ottawa Valley Railway land and train tracks as it slopes toward the beach. Signs positioned on each side of the OVR tracks warn trespassers they will be prosecuted (see photo above).
"As a matter of safety, OVR installed a fence on its right of way near the Apollo Gymnastics Club," a company spokesperson tells BayToday. "This measure protects our employees and also helps prevent anyone unauthorized to be on OVR property from getting injured by a train or other rail equipment. Pedestrians and cyclists are invited to use the public rail crossing at Memorial Drive and are reminded to obey any signals at the crossing."
Although OVR maintains the installation of the fence has to do with safety issues and concerns with liability, the trail and nearby waterfront area has been the site of what was, at different points this summer, an extensive encampment of people living rough.
Reports of negative interactions between staff, families picking up and dropping off children at the gymnastics club — which, in summer operates as more a day camp — and people coming and going from the trail prompted several calls for service to local police. The gymnastics club, a not-for-profit organization, eventually went so far as to hire a private security guard to augment protection for staff and clients on its property.
A neighbourhood group is banding together, with plans to approach OVR and the City over the matter. Catherine Murton Stoehr sums up her disappointment over the construction of the fence, saying the "loss of the 100-year-old beach access reduces the quality of life of an economically diverse and densely populated area of town and squanders the real riches this place has to offer."
Have citizens been trespassing for years with little worry of enforcement or is there an unspoken understanding between the OVR and neighbours allowing access to the water?
In an online discussion among concerned citizens, Liz Lott further notes "This now creates almost a one-kilometre long barrier to the lake where public accesses are almost every block or less in every other part of North Bay. Many are saying it's because of the recent (during the summer only) location of tent city. It's a frustrating knee-jerk reaction to something that was only temporary but leaves hundreds of us with a permanent barrier."