The K&P Railway, whose century-long death throes issued their final spasm in 1986, was sometimes disparagingly called the “kick and push railway.” As it turns out, the jab was a prescient one: the railroad would one day find new life as a recreational trail for, among others, cross-country skiers, whose bread and butter is kicking and pushing. In fact, it was while out skiing last winter that I discovered the trail, quite by accident, having come as far as the 401 from my downtown apartment in an improvised attempt to piece together a skiable route from city to country.
Construction on the ill-fated Kingston and Pembroke Railway began in 1872, and by 1884 the line had reached Renfrew. In the intervening years, the Canada Central Railway had pushed up the Ottawa Valley as far as Mattawa, making the planned final miles of the K&P redundant. Nevertheless, the original name was retained, and two years later the southern end of the line was connected to Kingston’s waterfront at the familiar Inner Station, now the tourist information hub in Confederation Park, for a total of 112 miles (180 km). Unfortunately for stakeholders, the K&P never brought the promised returns. Its decline and disintegration began almost immediately, although the last trains between Kingston and Tichborne were not taken out of service until 1986.
The patient work of converting the disused rail bed to recreational use has been quietly underway since 1990. In more recent years, the City of Kingston and Frontenac County have taken it upon themselves to snap up available rights-of-way with an eye to helping things along, and in 2007 a fifteen-kilometre section was opened between the industrial outskirts of the city and its rural outer limits at Orser Road. Since then, the trail has crept northward in a series of well-orchestrated phases to its current limit of Tichborne (55 km from the southern trailhead). Thanks in part to grant money from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, work on an extension to Sharbot Lake is set to take place this fall, in time for the next year’s sesquicentennial celebrations. The trail’s wilder central and northern reaches in Renfrew Country are largely usable already.
Meanwhile, in Kingston, just last month City Council gave the go-ahead to begin work on paving and linking up the 6.4 remaining kilometres between the current trailhead at the end of Dalton Avenue and Douglas Fluhrer Park, at a cost of $3.5 million, that will make it possible to walk from downtown Kingston onto the Trans-Canada Trail (which is aiming for coast-to-coast-to-coast walkability by next year’s anniversary) or north to Sharbot Lake and beyond.
I recently decided to cycle out to see how things were coming along. Starting from Anglin Bay, I rode along the waterfront through Fluhrer Park until I came to River Road. From there, after taking to the woods on what turned out to be a wrong turn, I came out on a flat, cycle-ready gravel path that led me to Belle Island Park. A very short on-road section on Montreal Street leads to an unofficial footpath paralleling an overgrown section of former CN track that runs westward just north of Hickson Avenue (behind the abandoned Outer Station). This is walkable already, but will need cleaning up if it is to appeal to most users. This section comes out on Elliot Avenue, very close to John Counter Boulevard, and the trail will follow an existing cycle lane to Division, then go north across the overpass. A hard left behind Canadian Tire leads to a good gravel cycle path, which ends in another road section along Dalton Avenue. On the south side of Dalton, widening, grading, and paving for the K&P Trail extension are already taking place. Finally, Dalton Avenue ends at the current K&P trailhead. From here, a railroad-width gravel bed parallels the 401 for about two kilometres before slipping under it and heading quietly north into farms and fields, making the slog through the industrial belt worthwhile.
Since nearly all of the 6.4 kilometres of new trail already exist in one form or another, the planned work is mostly just a matter of linking them together, ensuring that the travel surfaces are sufficiently wide and level to suit the needs of potential users, and posting signage. Based on what I saw, completion by next summer seems entirely feasible. The trail will be a boon to Kingstonians who value access to close-to-home rural recreation that does not require driving. Thanks to its unbroken connection to the thousands of kilometres of the Trans-Canada Trail, jaunts can literally be as short or as long as you like.