Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is editor and publisher of the Stanstead Journal.
Posted 06.24.03
Stanstead, Quebec


So what's the big deal about the Tomifobia Valley bike trail?

"When are you going to write something good about the trail?" Sentier Massawippi stalwarts have asked me for years, even as they cancelled their subscriptions to The Journal for my anti-trail stance (matched only by the cancelled subscriptions as a result of our pro-trail stance).

In the 10-plus years that I have been covering the travails of the trail through the Tomifobia Valley, it never occured to me to write something "good" or "bad" about the trail. In fact, in all that time, the trail itself never seemed to be an issue. The stories - "good" or "bad" depending on what side of the tracks you were on - were always more about the people and their squabbles, the differences over zoning and permits, the opposing views on how the environment could best be protected. Somehow, the trail proper became a forgotten player in this drama, the main event overshadowed by the sideshow.

Until two Sundays ago, I had never been on the completed trail to any great extent, certainly not since its completion. Now officially opened between Beebe and Ayer's Cliff, I decided to set out with the family to see what the fuss was all about.

The family - two parents, four kids, five bikes - didn't attempt the full length. We set out from Beebe Road and made it as far as Curtis Road and back. The section was at my suggestion. I figured (a) it would be a picturesque length of trail and (b) it would pass through the most contentious village of Tomifobia.

We set out on our leisurely way under sunny skies.

Here's what I didn't see on our brief trek:

* I didn't see any garbage along the trail. I saw one long-established car tire in the Tomifobia River that was acting as a gathering place for sociable mudsuckers. Other than that, the only other garbage was on the other side of fences on private land - the detritus of farming and country living.

* I didn't see in anyone's windows, try as I might. It was sunny, though. Perhaps if I had been biking on a particularly dark day or at night and the lights had been on inside, I might have got an eyeful of a trail foe or two. And what if I had? I would have waved and waited for the letters to the editor.

* I didn't seen what former Journal editor John Mahoney calls "fascists in Spandex." No speed demons. Just one older gentleman who drove up behind us and offered an "Attention" warning to my kids as he passed. They deserved it; they were hogging the trail. The cyclists were mainly couples, mostly over 40, plus one young family. About three dozen people in all coming and going during this mid-afternoon jaunt. Few, if any, were from the Border area. All were polite.

And here's what I did see:

* I did see some people straying from the trail. On the way, a party of four had parked their bikes and had clambered down the bank of the river to enjoy a better view of the waters. On the way back, near the same spot, another couple had ventured onto a rock mid-river for a snack.

* I did see one cyclist sprawled shirtless on one of Sentier Massawippi's benches. He was in decent shape so it wasn't particularly offensive.

* I did see the rock dust of the trail surface washed away down one section of embankment.

* I did see turtles, frogs, flowers, the hidden rotting beauty and life of wetlands and marshes, the winding Tomifobia running its amazing course through the woods, laughing here, sunning itself there.

* I did see parts of this territory that I had never seen before. Even though I was running more or less parallel to roads I had traveled by car a hundred times before, I was delightfully disoriented. I could imagine the trains of old racing through these woods, cutting through a quiet wilderness. I thought, "Isn't this an improvement?"

In fact, as I biked along, inhaling deeply the smell of the evergreens and swamp algae, I couldn't imagine why anyone would be opposed to this. I felt I was no more invading anyone's privacy than if I was driving by in a car. Some are afraid of how this bike trail will affect the environment. They shouldn't be. If anything, a ride along the Tomifobia Nature Trail will make the awesome beauty of a protected environment that much more real. And that's something good about the trail.