Bruce Trail dispute all about “show me the money”

Two weeks ago the Thornbury Paper ran a column discussing the Bruce Trail, property owners and how the two co-exist, mostly in harmony, but not always.

Now, further details have come to light on one of the disputes. Unfortunately, it shows that money really is the root of most evil, and I suspect neither party is going to come out of it looking particularly good.

In recent days, Shannon Kingston, who identifies herself as one of the owners of the property where the Laycock Cave trail in the former Sydenham Township was located, has taken to social media to argue the path could be re-opened ‘with a phone call” as soon as the Bruce Trail Conservancy meets their asking price.

In her posts, Kingston claims the BTC hasn’t been interested in paying a “fair price” for the property, which she calls “priceless”.

Somehow though, I suspect she and her co-owner(s) have been able to put a definition as to what priceless means to them.

Kingston goes on to say that the BTC has $16.4 million in a “conservation fund” which is used to acquire property along the trail’s optimum route. Considering that, the purchase price of her property wouldn’t “put a dent” in that fund, she said.

Not surprisingly, the BTC has a different perspective on the situation.

When contacted about the issue, Beth Gilhespy, the executive director of the BTC, didn’t want to discuss the details of the dispute, saying she preferred to preserve confidentiality.

However, Gilhespy said Kingston is mistaken about the conservation fund. It’s not a fund in the proper sense, she said. Instead, the $16.4 million represents the value of the land the BTC has acquired during its fundraising sessions over the years. There’s a very minimal amount of cash in that fund, Gilhepsy said, and it is used for property maintenance.

Typically, properties are acquired through donations and fundraising programs, often for specific properties, she added.

When properties are acquired, it is for fair market value, Gilhespy stated. That value is also affected by the fact that such properties will never be developed when they are in the control of the BTC, which affects the value as well.

So what’s the moral of the story here?

With her comments, it’s fairly clear that Kingston regards the BTC as a cash cow, one that is cheap and unwilling to pay a fair price.

The BTC is clearly saying it won’t play that role, and tries to position itself as a prudent investor solely reliant on public good will.

Let’s face it, money is tight almost everywhere, and most people and organizations have to be careful how they spend it. As the owner of the land, Kingston and whoever her co-owners are have every right to sell the property to the highest bidder if they so choose. I don’t know what the financial situation is there, but they need to remember they are depriving the public of access to the popular trail and cave over what could be called a money-grab.

That’s a public relations problem right there, one Kingston has created by airing the dispute publicly. Most of the comments she has received on Facebook have indicated that’s exactly how she’s being viewed, particularly since she’s calling on the public to pressure the BTC into raising its offer.

She needs to remember that charities such as the BTC don’t exist to provide a ready source of cash to private land-owners who are perhaps blinded by dollar signs in their eyes.

The BTC needs to be careful as well. Many people are wary and cynical about charities and how they handle the funds they raise through donations and have become more unwilling to support them.

As well, too many charities have a tendency to come as more than a bit self-righteous. Many display an attitude that I, in my more cynical moments, like to term “We’re good people doing good things! How dare you criticise us and not support us?”

Not infrequently, charities demand discounts when they conduct business as well, and come to expect them. That might be the case here, but it’s impossible to say without the actual numbers. Neither side is willing to release those.

The BTC can’t afford to be seen as “low-balling” owners if it wants to continue purchasing properties to secure a permanent route for the venerable Bruce Trail. It’s totally reliant on the good will of property owners and the public.

Both sides need to get back to talking to each other, and stop fighting their battles through the media. Both have received black eyes over this.

In the meantime, it’s the public who is suffering from their spat.

Get back at it people, before this kind of problem becomes more widespread.

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