Sports & Health

MPL’s Trail Project gets funding to combine health and wellbeing with economic revitalization

Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A $25,000 federal investment in Markham Public Library’s (MPL) Trail Project will encourage residents and visitors to explore and learn about Markham while enjoying what our main streets have to offer.

The My Main Street Community Activator program is a $23.25 million investment by the Government of Canada to help drive business and restore vibrancy to local communities across southern Ontario in the aftermath of COVID-19.

The funding is distributed by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), whose mission is to help grow businesses, cultivate partnerships, and build stronger communities.

“Our government is committed to helping communities bring their main streets back to life. My Main Street is providing vital support to projects that will reanimate neighbourhoods through installations, events, and activities that are inclusive, innovative, and engaging to create jobs and drive economic growth for local economies,” said MP Helena Jaczek, minister responsible for FedDev Ontario.

A team of MPL staff started the Trail Project in spring 2022. The library’s efforts to support wellness and mental health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for the community and its staff were the inspiration.

“We had through this time various programs that focused on the wellness benefits of nature, including the importance of spending time in nature to support brain health and mental health,” said Andrea Cecchetto, director, service excellence for MPL.

Cecchetto explained how combining storytelling and reading with nature was an ideal opportunity to connect with the community, given the challenges of the pandemic.

The My Main Street funding extends the benefits of the program even further. “We realized we could do this work in a way that encouraged social cohesion and economic recovery as well,” she added.

The $25,000 will enhance the trails and main streets near Markham Village and Unionville Library branches through the storytelling and programming initiatives of the Trail Project. Emphasis will be on the natural and cultural history of the community and its green spaces.

New trailheads plus a free app will combine to offer digital trail animation. The Markville Secondary School App Development Club designed the app. Cecchetto describes the club as a “really talented group of students who were keen to support this project in service to their community.”

Trail Project programs will include Escape to Main Street, a geocaching activity that takes participants through the trails and main streets on a scavenger hunt in search of clues.

Indigenous nature walks and forest story times celebrate the natural and cultural beauty of the area while building community by bringing people together.

Alan Colley from Toronto Aboriginal Eco Tours will lead guided walks August 27 at Unionville Library and September 24 at Markham Village Library. Registration is required.

“The MPL Trail Project will help revitalize both Main Street Markham and Main Street Unionville by increasing foot traffic to restaurants and shops on the main streets. It will also benefit the wellness of Markham residents by enticing them to visit the beautiful trails in Markham where they can explore and connect with nature,” said Catherine Biss, CEO of MPL

A key consideration for the Trail Project was the possible barriers for community members to participate in the outdoors.

“Recognizing that equity-seeking groups are traditionally underrepresented in outdoor recreation, we wanted to make sure the programs we were offering were as inclusive as possible,” said Cecchetto.

Inviting local artists, writers, and creatives with diverse lived experiences to contribute works for participants to enjoy along guided story walks is an example of how the project supports this objective.

“We also recognize that there may be economic barriers for some community members and wanted to address this by implementing a new lending collection related to the trails,” she added. Binoculars and Nordic walking poles are among the items that will be available for library members to borrow free of charge to enhance their time outside.

The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) administers the My Main Street Community Activator program. CUI is a national research organization whose mission is “to ensure Canada builds vibrant, equitable, liveable, and resilient cities.”

“The Markham Public Library submitted a comprehensive proposal that articulated the benefits of connecting residents and visitors with the city’s scenic trails and vibrant local businesses,” said Nick Hanson, communications lead of CUI.

CUI received a significant number of submissions for My Main Street Community Activator program funding in 2022, with the total amount requested far exceeding the available funding for the program. Selected programs were therefore highly regarded by the assessment panel.

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Photo: The trail behind Unionville Public Library welcomes Trail Project explorers.

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