A walk in the woods

The Sustainability Projects Fund helps the Gault Nature Reserve create a new hiking trail that will minimize environmental degradation
A portion of the new trail at the Gault Nature Reserve

When the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) was established in 2009, it was an experiment.

The idea was simple: Promote a culture of sustainability across McGill by providing seed funding for grassroots sustainability projects that address everything from energy savings to social justice. (Each student would pay 50 cents per credit, which the administration would match dollar for dollar.) Members of the McGill community, including students, staff and faculty, would be welcome to apply for funding for their projects big and small.

Ten years, and $7 million in funding, later, it’s safe to say the experiment has been a huge success.

On October 10, the SPF will celebrate its 10th anniversary as the largest fund of its kind in Canada.

In the ten days leading up to October 10, the McGill Reporter is highlighting 10 of the more than 200 projects that have been supported by the SPF.

Today’s project: Gault Nature Reserve Community Access trail

Climbing Mont-Saint-Hilaire is an excellent workout, and once at the top, the peak offers a dazzling vista of the South Shore. Unfortunately, too many of the 63,000 visitors annually to McGill’s Gault Nature Reserve ignore the authorized trail network at the base and take shortcuts pell-mell as they set out, trampling on the fragile eco-system, creating habitat fragmentation, soil erosion and security issues.

This week, a new trail funded by the SPF and designed to meet sustainable standards opened, aiming to fix the problem by creating a new trail that respects the area’s delicate environment.

The Gault Nature Reserve Community Access project will close the illegal trails at the overcrowded main entrance of the mountain to limit environmental degradation and will post clear signage directing visitors to stay within the boundaries of the new trail that leads eventually to a larger network of trails.

The new access trail will be monitored by patrollers, and visitors will be able pay an access fee online or to the patrollers.

Network of unauthorized trails

Mont-Saint-Hilaire committed itself to building a path leading to the new GNR access trail, a public toilet, a support room dedicated to McGill’s patrollers and bike racks.

“Over the years, to avoid traffic jams at the main entrance and to reach the mountain’s summit more rapidly, visitors have created a disorderly and unauthorized trail network,” Gault Nature Reserve Community Access team members noted.

“This more assiduous presence will help solve the current issue of illegal trail multiplication, vandalism and non-compliance with our regulations.”

The western flank of GNR is a fragile and steep area of the mountain. It is located within 1 kilometre of a major highway and surrounded by a large urban area of Mont-Saint-Hilaire. The goal of this project is to formalize a local access trail offering an alternative to the population who uses active and communal transportation directly at the heart of Mont-Saint-Hilaire.

The bulk of the funds was spent on trail work, and the rest on signage, infrastructure and a charging station for electric vehicles to encourage visits using clean-energy vehicles.

Conservation issues are not new at GNR. The town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire has conducted a wide-ranging public consultation to develop a sustainable urban development plan. An important element identified by community members of that plan was the need for a local public, transit-oriented access to GNR.

A view from the new trail at the Gault Nature Reserve