Runners kicked the dust up on Saturday morning for the Heritage Trail Fun Run & Dog Walk.
Starting from Veterans Memorial Park, it was the first of what is planned to be an annual fundraiser.
Originally, it was supposed to be held in 2020, but was postponed until now due to the pandemic.
“It’s nice that we can put this on and then, hopefully next year, we’ll just do it again,” said volunteer Laura Fakla.
Twenty-nine runners and walkers began their five-kilometre run at 8 a.m. As they disappeared in the distance, dog walkers checked in for registration.
If there’s something every dog loves, it’s going for a walk.
As other dogs arrived, the canines’ excitement grew, with tails wagging in every direction.
“Well, I think we’re expecting almost as many dog walkers as runners,” said Tony Chisholm, the vice-chair of the Upper Canada Heritage Trail committee.
In total, 20 dog walkers and about 22 dogs took part in the two-kilometre walk.
As the clock ticked closer to 8:30 a.m., cheering could be heard at the finish line as the first runner approached. Steve DeBoer, wearing number eight, was the first to finish the race.
Rick Meloen, the chair of the heritage trail committee, said they were prepared for 200 people.
“For whatever reason, we’re not getting quite that many. But that’s OK. We’re gonna have fun,” he said.
It’s important to raise awareness so that more people know about the trail, said Meloen.
“You’ve got to do it, right, otherwise it just disappears,” said volunteer Paul O’Connor.
All the money raised goes toward phase two of the restoration of the 10-kilometre trail. Between sponsors and participants, more than $7,000 was raised.
Phase one was completed in 2021 and cost about $150,000. It restored 1.5 kilometres of the trail between John Street and East and West Line.
The second phase will cost about $160,000 and restore the trail from East and West Line to Line 3.
“We’re hoping to start work on that within a year or so,” said Chisholm.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake Sesquicentennial Committee chose the rehabilitation of the heritage trail as its Legacy Project in 2017.
In 2019, a committee of the town – the heritage trail committee – was formed to help restore the trail through fundraising and boosting awareness.
The committee is applying for government grants and will continue to seek more trailblazers.
“A trailblazer is a person who contributes at least $100. And then their name appears on a brass plaque that’s actually mounted at that entrance,” Chisholm said.
The group also is going to continue with personal fundraising to help with the cost of phase two.
“We’re working on it bit by bit,” said Chisholm.
The restored section of the trail is already well used, he said. All of the feedback has been extremely positive.
Last year, the committee planted about 50 trees along the pathway.
“And we will continue to do this as we head up along Concession 1 all the way to York Road and to join on eventually to the Bruce Trail,” he said.
Each participant received a backpack that included a water bottle for them and their pets, donated by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum.
Pet Valu in Virgil also donated 50 goodie bags for the four-legged athletes.
“I’ve done so many races in my life … it’s very rare to find a race with this much swag,” said Fakla.
Every time someone approached the finish line, she’d cheer and dangle the medals up high, shaking them until they sounded like bells ringing.
By the end, dogs and people alike had medals dangling from their necks.
“In a time when the world is unpredictable and mental health is a challenge for a lot of people, just being able to come back out and celebrate each other and celebrate just being in nature is just absolutely wonderful,” she said.
Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report