The East Coast Trail is growing — in size and in number of hikers using it — and the association that maintains it is looking for more funding to do so.
Hikers arrive in Pouch Cove as they take part in the 12th East Coast Trail Tely Hike. — Telegram file photo
Randy Murphy, president of the East Coast Trail Association, made a presentation to the City of St. John’s finance and administration standing committee last week, noting the six paths that fall within city boundaries — 60 kilometres of the trail — saw 34,000 hikers in 2011 and 44,500 hikers in 2012.
“Our biggest challenge is the sustainability and long-term survival of the trail and the association,” said Murphy.
To that end, the association is seeking a boost in the amount of funding provided by St. John’s, from the $25,000 it provides annually now to a four-year commitment of $86,000 to fund an increased maintenance program to run until 2017.
Murphy said the cost to maintain the 265-kilometre trail is about $380,000, and the association is reaching out to other communities along the trail as well as the provincial government for more funding.
“We’re reaching out to the communities along the trail and the province because, basically, when you reach out to the corporate world and other funding groups and agencies, they don’t want to support trail maintenance,” he said.
“So we’re reaching out to communities and the businesses along the trail who are directly benefitting from the trail to help maintain the existing trail.”
It’s the second year in a row the association has asked the city to help fund the increased maintenance program. Last year the city declined the association’s request for a five-year commitment to the maintenance program, and the city left its funding at $25,000.
Coun. Tom Hann asked Murphy if the association would be hoping for the same level of financial support past 2017, and Murphy said that would probably be the case.
“We will come back for continued maintenance,” he said. “The last 20 years of the trail, the trail has been focused on a business model that has focused on trail management, trail development. What we’re trying to do right now is make a transition to a new business model called ‘sustain the trail.’ … We’re hoping that over the next four years, if the board approves and we can get the organization behind it, is try to, between now and 2017, try to raise $4 million to begin a legacy fund that we can draw on to support the trail.”
Coun. Sandy Hickman noted the trail’s importance to city tourism and recreation.
“This is one of the top generators for travel outside of, probably, conventions, certainly in St. John’s area if not all of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Hickman.
“And it’s important for our residents as well … for physical activity and it just being awe-inspiring as well. We really need to sustain this — we need you guys to sustain this on our behalf, and that’s what we’re doing here if and when we support you.”
The city’s 2014 budget has already been set, but the committee directed city staff to see what funding options might be available if the city decides to increase its funding above $25,000 this year, and will consider increasing funding in the 2015 budget.