Friday, August 07, 2020

Biking on the Elora Cataract Trailway

You can explore an abandoned rail line turned into a multi-use pathway through nature in Centre Wellington which continues to the Forks of the Credit in Caledon - a 47km journey on a limestone covered railway bed, minus the rails. Centre Wellington includes Elora, Fergus and Belwood which are towns along the Grand River which are always worth a visit and about an 1.5 hours northwest of Toronto. The areas are very touristy and feature some fine limestone buildings, some great stores and restaurants along with the Elora Gore, the Elora Quarry and Lake Belwood. During non covid times you could go to the annual Fergus Truck Show.
Elora is the "most road trippable town in Canada" apparently.

I have passed the trailway often in my travels in the area, but didn't know too much about it. So after visiting their website I found out that it was part of a spur line built in the late 1800s by the Credit Valley Railway. The main line ran between Toronto and Orangeville while the spur line ran from Cataract to Elora. Cataract, which I never knew before, is located at the Forks of the Credit in Caledon and is named after the nearby waterfall. In 1883 the Credit Valley line was merged with the Ontario and Quebec Railway and then leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway and then, just over 100 years later the line was abandoned. Usually abandoned rail lines are offered for sale first to the municipality, then to adjacent land owners, then to any interested party. In this case the land was purchased by two separate Conservation agencies in 1993 - the Credit Valley Conservation Authority and the Grand River Conservation Authority.
Sit on the occasional bench - like this one with a view of the Grand River
With the assistance of the Province of Ontario, private donors and a number of other parties the trail was developed as a public trailway by the Elora Cataract Trailway Association. The trail is also part of the Trans Canada Trail which runs 24,000km between the Pacific, the Altantic and the Arctic Oceans. You can still sponsor some of the trailway if you have some spare cash.

From their website; "A community group, the Elora Cataract Trailway Association, has been working with the two conservation authorities to bring the project to fruition. The goal is to create a greenway or linear park through which people can explore their environment in different ways while, at the same time, encouraging the protection of natural and cultural heritage values."
Follow the trailway signs in Fergus
The Elora Cataract Trailway is free to use and the website has maps of the route along with parking locations. The trailway is about 1.5m wide in most locations, wide enough to have two lanes for biking, hiking or passing. At intersections there are gates with single wide access points, stop signs and street signs so you know where you are. In Fergus the trail takes a break from the old rail line and continues along small town streets - just follow the Elora Cataract Trailway directional signs until you pick up the trail again.
There is a great washroom in Fergus at Forfar Park. The trailway maps also indicate where there are bathrooms along the way

For this trip we wanted to bike to Elora from a point west and chose the start of Lake Belwood which is about 20km away from Elora. There are several free places to park around Smith and Queen Streets as well as a small lot right beside the trail off County Road 26. Plus there are two places in Belwood that sell ice cream, so there is that as well. This route would allow us to check out some of the lake, the Shand Dam that holds back the water that creates the lake (photo at top) is part of the trailway, pass through Fergus and puts us almost into downtown Elora with the Gorge on the far side of the main street. At the Elora Gorge park we could stop for a picnic, then head back to our starting point. Unfortunately for us we hit torrential rain on the way back so we had to pedal fast and spent less time exploring then I had wanted to do.

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