Log Cabin Chronicles

A Bike Path Doesn't Run
All The Way Through It


All Photographs © 1998 John Mahoney

Tomifobia, Quebec | Hard feelings about whether to allow bicylists to use the abandoned railbed that runs through this rural hamlet continue to stir up local folks. The railroad used to run behind the building in the background, now a woodworking shop owned by the mayor.


FOOL'S HOLLOW, QUEBEC | Insults and snide comments. Character assassinations, both private and public. Gratuitous finger pointing. Overt attempts at marginalization and demonization. Accusations of bad character, bad faith, and bad personal agendas. Misleading statements and flat-out lies.

Surely, this points to nations falling, armies clashing, days of calamity. At the very least there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In saner times and saner places this might hold true.

But here in Quebec, in lovely Fool's Hollow, the anger and bitterness is focused on bicycles.

Or rather, whether people on bicycles should be allowed to ride to and fro on a half-dozen-mile stretch of thrown-up rail bed that winds through the lightly populated rural town of Ogden.

"What the hell?" you ask. "The fighting in Kosovo threatens to engulf the entire Balkans in a major war, our health-care system is being systematically dismantled, the Parti Québécois is still running roughshod over anglo rights, and you're bitching about bicycles?"

Hey, not me. I'm a non-combatant. But here's how it looks from the sidelines:

The railbed in the Town of Ogden is overgrown. To date, Council's local zoning forbids its use as a bike path or recreational corridor.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad abandoned its spur line that runs through Fool's Hollow down to the old railroad city of Newport, Vermont. Before CPR bailed out, it promised to deal fairly with the adjoining land owners.

Going back on its word, it sold all of the railbed to Sentier Massawippi, a group formed to promote the idea of converting the railbed to a bicycle path -- actually, a multi-use linear corridor -- that would be part of a North American network. The provincial government supports the idea.

An interesting concept, perhaps, but badly handled. Some local folks living in Fool's Hollow felt not only sold out by CPR doing its bad corporate citizen act but patronized by the out-of-town cycling enthusiasts who quickly demonstrated a total lack of knowledge about good community relations. For example, they didn't bother to ask the folks who live around here how they felt about having a bike trail in their neighborhood.

A group of land owners -- some with a vested interest in the railbed: their property adjoins it or is split by it -- formed the Tomifobia Valley Homeowners Association and declared war.

Both sides attempted to take the moral high ground, while pointing fingers and calling names. Who fired the first insult is open to interpretation.

Some of the Homeowners, raising the specter of an expensive project being dumped on local taxpayers, continue to make it clear they want no part of hordes of spandex-clad velo-fascists asking for drinks of water, raiding their wild garlic patches, or peeing in their rosebushes.

And some of the Sentier Massawippi crowd have attempted to paint a portrait of white-wine-sipping urban elitists doing the nimby-limbo (not in my back yard, turkey!). At times, they have been unusally acid-tongued.

trail Meanwhile, as insults continue to multiply and bad feelings breed and fester, the rail bed is slowly being repaired and resurfaced in the neighboring towns.

Five of Ogden's six councillors, and the mayor, have opposed the trail going through their town on the old rail bed.

The neighboring councils and the mayors want the trail -- they believe it will help bring people with spending money into their communities.

Private strategy meetings to oppose the rail bed trail in Ogden continue. Private strategy meetings to enlist the provincial government in ramming it through, despite Ogden council's opposition, continue. The insults, the sarcastic references, the acid letters to the editor, the character assassinations continue.

And yet there are no bad guys involved here -- they're all nice folks and I like and admire a number of them. But good folks don't always choose good words and good strategies to advance their cause. They get so caught up in the righteousness of their positions that they are unable to step back and see what they're really about.

I don't reckon any of them, on either side of the issue, will want to have carved on their tombstone this parting thought: "I wish I had written more letters to the editor (against) (for) the bike path."


If you disregard the deer flies, Fool's Hollow is particularly beautiful this time of year. But when the bike trail comes up in conversation -- and God knows I try to avoid it -- it's not unlike living in an ancient Chinese curse...

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Copyright © 1999 John Mahoney/Log Cabin Chronicles/6.99