In late December, following years of negotiations, the former Canada Southern Railway (CASO) section that stretches 47 kilometres through Essex County was successfully protected for public use, thanks to a partnership between the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), the County of Essex, Town of Tecumseh, Town of Essex and Municipality of Lakeshore, and with generous funding support from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The former CASO Rail Line ceased operations approximately 15 years ago, and dignitaries from across the region joined MP Irek Kusmierczyk at ERCA’s Annual General Meeting to announce the acquisition.
The CASO corridor dissects all major watercourses which outlet to Lake St. Clair. This corridor has a significant regional watershed management value related to potential mitigation of natural hazards for flooding and drainage issues.
Once funding has been acquired to develop this property into a trail system, it will connect Chatham-Kent trails to Leamington’s Greenway, the Chrysler Greenway and the Cypher Systems Group Greenway and the Herb Gray Parkway trails – ultimately completing the long anticipated, multi-use trail loop through the region. In addition, this system will support the County Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) initiative of the County of Essex.
The railway ties, steel rails, and other equipment were removed from the property about 7 years ago, and the property has since naturalized. In its current state, it is a mix of former rail ballast, meadow, shrub thickets, wetlands, and woodland/forest. It provides a unique habitat that is preferred by certain endangered species such as the Eastern Foxsnake.
Federal and Provincial recovery strategies have noted abandoned rail corridors as important areas to protect. In addition to protecting Species at Risk, this corridor provides for long-term protection of the only habitat linkage between existing fragmented forests and wetlands. In total, there are 21 separate natural areas that are connected through this acquisition.