By Liam Waterman, GHTC Volunteer
Where section 5 of the Radial Line Trail (RLT) diverges from the former rail bed, it runs across a long stretch of boardwalk leading towards 6th line Nassagaweya, near the Blue Springs Scout camp. This boardwalk first spans Blue Springs creek, then meanders through a large stretch of wet and swampy ground heading south. Despite not having built the boardwalk originally, the Guelph Hiking Trail Club (GHTC) has undertaken several extensive repairs on it in the last few years, the most recent in 2022, where about 125 boards were replaced.1 Though no official measurement exists, this boardwalk may be the largest connective structure present on any of the trails maintained by the GHTC, serving to keep an impressive stretch of trail dry and safe to traverse.2
The section on which the boardwalk is located was actually originally a side trail, created by GHTC member Andy Cann and his brother in 1988 to serve as an alternative route to what is now the Beaver side trail, formerly the second half of the main line of RLT #5, which remains prone to frequent flooding.3 The boardwalk was not present at this time, but was instead built in the 1990s by scouts from the nearby Blue Springs Scout Camp.4 The scouts used cedar lumber for the boardwalk, which was milled on their camp warden’s sawmill. Having made this side trail significantly drier and easier to traverse, the boardwalk was a motivating factor in the GHTC’s eventual decision in 1998 to move the main trail of section 5 on to Andy’s side trail. Phil Kidston, who was then trail coordinator for the RLT, noted that the new route was more scenic and required the RLT to travel less distance on the road. In this way the boardwalk quickly became important for the accessibility and enjoyability of RLT section 5.5
Fortunately, due to the scouts’ use of cedar, the boardwalk managed to last for over a decade from this point without showing significant signs of decay. It was only in the 2010s that some decking boards began to deteriorate, making repairs necessary. By this time John Fisher had taken over as RLT coordinator from Phil Kidston, who had moved to section leader for RLT #5. John first reached out to the Scout Camp, inquiring whether or not the scouts would wish to repair the structure that they had originally built. Unfortunately the scout camp rejected this idea, leaving the responsibility for repair squarely on the GHTC’s shoulders. The first work party to replace decking boards on the boardwalk, as such, was organized in 2017. Though simple in concept, this work was made somewhat more difficult by the unorthodox widths of the boards, which ranged widely, including both 4 inch and 8 inch boards. Some of them were also cut into wedge shapes at locations where the boardwalk changed directions. In the days before the work party, section leader Phil Kidston went out to the boardwalk along with section #3 leader Jim Hoare, whose carpentry experience includes volunteer work with the Guelph Little Theatre, to survey the lengths of boards needed. In the end they were able to order custom width boards from the nearby Bauman Sawmill, and Jim Hoare was able to make alterations to some of these using a table saw to create the wedge shapes needed.
With the correct size boards on the hand, lumber was brought to the trail on the back of a pickup truck borrowed by Mike Curtis. From this point scout camp manager Paul Garofolo helped out by bringing these boards up to the boardwalk location using his tractor.6 The new boards were then laid out adjacent to the ones that needed to be replaced. The actual insertion of these new boards occurred on the day of the work party, where volunteers were responsible first for prying off the rotting decking boards, which would be slid underneath the boardwalk, then replacing them with the new decking boards. This work went off without a hitch, and similar repairs were scheduled in 2018 and 2019, replacing more boards each year. Though the trail was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, another round of repairs was recently organized in 2022 after the trail reopened. For these repairs Jim Hoare and Brian van Nostrand completed the prep work. They utilized surveyor’s tape to label each board that would need to be removed and indicate the correct width for the replacement board. Paul Garofolo again used his tractor to aid in bringing the boards to the boardwalk location, while volunteers Mike Curtis, Andreas Hug, Frank Schoenhoeffer, Mark McDowell, Sandra Morrill, and Paul White came out on the day of the work party to participate in the replacement of the boards. On this occasion around 125 boards were replaced. Though the work was hard, Frank Schoeffenhour’s article for the GHTC newsletter records that it was a “lovely fall day”. With a bit of effort, the boardwalk was once again made structurally secure for the immediate future.
It is thanks to these continual repairs that this essential connective structure remains useable for the public. More repairs will certainly be needed for the boardwalk in the future, particularly as the cedar log stringers underneath the boards begin to reach the end of their lifespan. With attention from GHTC volunteers, however, the boardwalk will no doubt continue to serve its function, maintaining the accessibility of this section of the RLT.
1. Schoenhoeffer, Frank. “Radial Line Trail - Section 5 Boardwalk.” Guelph Hiking Trail Club Newsletter 50, no. 4 (2022): 6, https://issuu.com/doberman_xy/docs/2022-11.ghtc_50_4.
2. Much of the information in this article was obtained through an in-person interview with Jim Hoare, June 2023, and an in-person interview with Phil Kidston, August 2023. Many thanks to both of them for their help in this project.
3. “Guelph Trail Club Newsletter: November 1988, Volume 16 Number 4,” Minutes, Newsletters, Handbooks, Posters, Scrapbooks, Correspondence and Other Items Relating to the Guelph Hiking Trail Club, 1970-, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph.
4. Schoenhoeffer, Frank. “Radial Line Trail - Section 5 Boardwalk.” Guelph Hiking Trail Club Newsletter 50, no. 4 (2022): 6, https://issuu.com/doberman_xy/docs/2022-11.ghtc_50_4.
5. Executive Meeting: Minutes of September 24, 1998”, Minutes, Newsletters, Handbooks, Posters, Scrapbooks, Correspondence and Other Items Relating to the Guelph Hiking Trail Club, 1970-, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph.
6. Schoenhoeffer, Frank. “Radial Line Trail - Section 5 Boardwalk.” Guelph Hiking Trail Club Newsletter 50, no. 4 (2022): 6, https://issuu.com/doberman_xy/docs/2022-11.ghtc_50_4.