The K & P TRAIL & A new use for an abandoned railway

On the cold bright morning of Thursday 6 Dec/2007 at 10 a.m. the Mayor of Kingston, Harvey Rosen, supported by city officials, volunteers from the K & P Trail Association and a group of local elementary school children, officially opened the first section of the K&P Trail (from the original railway name, Kingston & Pembroke Railway) at the intersection of Bur Brook Road and Cordukes Road.

The Mayor and the enthusiastic children had actually walked the Horseshoe Curve section of the snow covered roadbed from its intersection with the Bur Brook Road and Jackson’s Mills, a distance of about 2 kilometres or roughly a mile and one-half. According to the K&P profile chart and the 1928 topographical map, the grade in this section is roughly 1 ˝% percent and the rise in elevation from the level of Collin’s Creek to the reverse curve (top of the hill) at the intersection of Bur Brook Rd and Cordukes Rd. approximately 110 ft.

The section, now open, approximately 10 miles in length, extends from Little Cataraqui Creek westward parallel to Hwy 401 on its south side until it nears Hwy 38. At this point it veers north under a new culvert to Jackson’s Mills, rounds the Horseshoe Curve to climb the Gibson’s Hill escarpment in a south-westerly direction. At the top of the hill the trail follows a north-westerly route somewhat parallel with, but to the east of Hwy 38. There are only three small curves from the top of Gibson’s Hill to Murvale Creek.

The last section of the K&P from Tichbourne to Kingston, built between 1872 and 1877, had been abandoned in 1983 and the track was torn up in the late fall of 1986. The right of way was offered first to the Ontario Government, which at that time had little interest converting old rail lines into trails. The townships refused to purchase the Right Of Way (R.O.W.). Their concerns were largely financial and legal. The fears of costly surveys, land disputes, fencing and general liability frightened them. Bell Canada bought the whole R.O.W. from Sharbot Lake to the Little Cataraqui Creek (boundary between Kingston Township and the city) for a transmission corridor. The R.O.W. was closed to all potential users.

When the civil engineers were surveying and planning this section which had to cross Collin’s Creek the original thought was to proceed directly across the valley in a north-westerly direction, in fact following closely what is now the Highway 38 right of way. The plan was to blast a deep cut into Gibson’s Hill and use the waste to build the necessary embankment southeast-ward over Collin’s Creek. This whole cut and embankment would have been at least one and one-half miles in length and would have taken far too many resources of the company. Consequently a decision was made to divert the line north into Collin’s Creek valley to the north of Jackson’s Mills and use the north escarpment to climb the hill. The addition of the diversion and curve added about one mile to the trackage, but kept the grade to a manageable 1 to 1 ˝%. This section became known as the Horseshoe Curve and is one of the most scenic locations along the city section of the R.O.W.

Even before this, a group of interested citizens had already been formed under the leadership of Douglas Knapp, a keen proponent of rails to trails, with the objective of turning the K&P R.O.W. into a trail. Little was accomplished until it became clear the conversion of the Canadian Northern line from Smiths Fall to Strathcona was successful.

The K&P Trail group convinced City Council to hold public meetings about the purchase and conversion of the K&P R.O.W. in what is the now the former Kingston Township. One of the interesting suggestions put forward by the K&P group was to have the R.O.W. declared a “linear park”. Thanks to the efforts of Councillors Sutherland and Rogers the citizens agreed to the proposal with the understanding that no motorized vehicles would be permitted on the city-owned section. City Council approved the recommendations and commenced negotiations with Bell Canada for the purchase of the R.O.W. By this time the Province of Ontario had reassessed its position on rails to trails, and had changed the surveying regulations so as to allow communities to purchase the rail beds without the vast expense of resurveying them.

The City of Kingston purchased the K&P R.O.W. within the old Kingston Township limits, a distance of about ten miles from Little Cataraqui Creek to Orser Road, developed a plan for reconstruction of the R.O.W. and all necessary infrastructure, hired a contractor who de-brushed the R.O.W., re-established the ditches, checked and repaired the culverts, graded and re-gravelled the surface and put up the necessary gates and fencing. [With little effort ties and rails could be re-laid. Oh well, one can dream.]

The Trail is now open to the public for walking, running, skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding and cycling. Within this section were stations or sidings at Cataraqui, and Glenvale. The Murvale station was north of the Orser Rd. The Trail can be walked in easy sections, the grade is gentle and there are parking facilities at each location where the trail crosses a public road.

The Right of Way in the “old city of Kingston” is only partly intact. Future plans are to extend the trail in this section, using the R.O.W. as much as possible and where the land has been lost, use existing roads and sidewalks or if necessary build them.

To the north, the Township of South Frontenac has reached tentative agreement with Bell to purchase the R.O.W. Central Frontenac’s position at the time of writing is unclear. The hope is to connect with the Ontario and Quebec (CPR) east-west line at Sharbot Lake. The ownership of the R.O.W. from Sharbot Lake to Snow Road is uncertain, some say it is private; others say the township owns it. From Snow Road to Renfrew the R.O.W. is owned by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.

For those interested, access can be made to the opened city section of the K&P Trail at any road crossing. For parking, the two best sites are at the crossing at Sydenham Road just south of Hwy 401, and at the intersection of Bur Brook Road and Cordukes Road (at the top of the west section of the Horseshoe Curve).

It is hoped that a larger and better publicized opening of the K&P Trail will take place this spring or early summer.

George Dillon
March, 2008