One Sunday afternoon, between hay and wheat harvest, we packed up our bikes and headed for Auburn. It was a beautiful sunny day, not too hot, not too windy, but with a refreshing breeze keeping us cool. We found the deadend side road we were looking for and unloaded our bikes – off on a new adventure.
I had cycled this portion of the G2G trail before – back when we called it the GART – Goderich to Auburn Rail Trail. Dedicated volunteers with the Maitland Trail Association have lovingly maintained it for many years and it is a beautiful place to ride. The trail is great for many reasons, not least of which, being a former rail bed, it is flat, which means people of varying abilities can enjoy it.
Riding a bike on a rail trail isn’t like riding on the road. It is peaceful and enables you to experience part of the countryside that you don’t ordinarily have a chance to experience. If you close your eyes and just use your sense of smell – you can tell what stage the crops are at. You can distinguish the change of the seasons. And maybe even what weeds are causing problems. You can listen to nature without having to worry about listening for traffic. You can tell the time of year just by the sounds and smells. Riding a bicycle is good for the mind, the body, and the soul.
This particular day, I was riding with a friend who lives in town, which allowed me to experience it through different eyes and senses. As farmers, we maybe don’t think about nature the same way that someone who doesn’t get to experience it every day does. We appreciate it, sure, hope that it rains when we need it and holds off when we don’t. But for people who live in the concrete jungle, they notice the difference in the air. They notice what isn’t there, like traffic, and fumes, and litter. They appreciate the experience in a different way. They notice things that we forget to notice because we get to see it every day.
Rail trails allow us to connect with our past, but also to connect with each other. The G2G trail connects people across four counties in 13 communities. It is easy to talk about the financial rewards for communities along the trail. Cyclists get tired and hungry – and the communities along the trail benefit. We biked to Goderich – had lunch there and biked back to Auburn. It was a spectacular day and created good memories. When we think of that day – we are encouraged to go back and experience the rest of the trail.
But the experience is about more than just financial rewards. It is a way to connect to each other – a way that as fewer people have connections to agriculture, we desperately need. When we were out cycling that day, we saw about 30 other people out doing the same thing. People of all ages and abilities. One group had quite a variety of ages, including one person in a stroller. On the Canada Day weekend, a group of 10 people actually did the trail from Guelph to Goderich, camping and enjoying the local communities along the way.
People who are out cycling, or walking, regardless of where they live, appreciate nature. As farmers, the trail allows us to share our environment – and our care for the environment – with people who might not otherwise have that view of us. For people who only know about farming from what they read or experience second or third hand, rail trails give us the opportunity to say “Hey! look at all the butterflies and bees and birds! Look at all the trees we’ve planted! Look at the water courses we’ve protected!” How else can I share with people that, in spite of the fact that we spray our crops, at the back of the farm, countless milkweed plants had baby monarch butterflies on them. People who vote care about that stuff.
A project like the G2G rail trail can inspire people – we in Huron and Perth counties have a beautiful natural resource. How can we expect people to care about that, and in fact, to care about rural Ontario, if they never get the chance to experience it except through a car window? The trail rolls through woods and fields, and allows people to see that nature and agriculture can and do live quite happily side by side.
Going for a bike ride on such a beautiful day inspires me. Our beautiful natural resource is one of the big selling features that brings our young people back, and attracts new people to make it their home. Anyone who has tried to hire employees knows we have a labour shortage in Huron County. People are looking for more than just money when they decide where to live – outdoor recreational activities are a great selling feature.
The trail group always welcomes people to help improve the trail and keep the dream moving forward. Money is coming in from various sources, but people are what makes the difference. If you are interested in volunteering or donating, contact G2G through Facebook, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When we try to live together using our commonalities instead of our differences, we waste less time arguing and find better solutions. Instead of buying into the notion of constantly building walls and finding ways to divide, let’s all go for a bike ride and see how we can build stronger communities together. ◊