The Cataraqui Trail follows a section of abandoned CN Railway running from Strathcona near Napanee to Smiths Falls. Train services along this line were discontinued in 1986, the ties and tracks were removed in 1989. Two regional snowmobile clubs, Lennox and Addington Ridge Runners S.C. and the Rideau Ridge Riders S.C., members of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC), used the corridor through a lease agreement with CN for several years. At the same time the South Eastern Ontario Rails to Trails Association (SEORTA), urged a Ontario provincial government interministerial committee to acquire the abandoned right-of-way for conversion to a recreational trail. Unfortunately, in 1996, the funding allocated for such acquisition was depleted. CNs options included selling the line to municipalities and/or to adjacent landowners.
The snowmobile clubs, fearful that if the land was sold off in small parcels they would lose its use as a trail, approached CN to negotiate the purchase of the entire line. The ownership would then be transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources. MNR determined that ownership of public trails did not fall within its current mandate, however, the Cataraqui Regional Conservation Authority (CRCA) offered to hold title to the land. This offer was on the understanding that all acquisition, development and operating costs of the proposed trail would have zero effect on their budget.
In response to the Conservation Authority’s offer, the snowmobile clubs in concert with SEORTA formed an ad hoc acquisition committee to create a plan for the acquisition, governance, development and operation of a shared-use year-round trail. In order for the Conservation Authority to formally accept ownership, it had to seek the approval of all municipalities through which the line ran. A series of public meetings were held in which the public was invited to express their support or concerns about the creation of this trail.
All nine municipalities through which the trail passed at that time approved motions of support for the trail based on the understanding that the legitimate concerns of agricultural interests and adjacent landowners be adequately addressed in the development and operation of the trail. (Amalgamation has since reduced this to three municipalities across three counties.)
The right-of-way was donated by CN to the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority for use as the Cataraqui Trail in 1997. Shortly after the purchase was finalized in early 1998, the first Management Board was formed.
This board consists of members nominated by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including municipalities, the Conservation Authority, snowmobile clubs, cyclists, hikers, cross country skiers, equestrians, adjacent landowners and agriculturalists.