The 2018 municipal election campaign is well under way. I am glad to see the signs in the community. The ones on private property show that citizens are getting involved and thinking about the important questions. Speaking of questions, I think The Madawaska Valley Current’s online election forum is providing a very useful service by letting voters field questions that concern them and by allowing the candidates who are participating a chance to explain their views and visions to the citizens of the Madawaska Valley. It makes it easier to vote for someone if you know what he or she stands for.
As a former mayor and businessman, I am particularly interested in the economic development of the Township of Madawaska Valley. Hearing about the sale of Madawaska Doors motivated me to write this piece. In the Eganville Leader, Mayor Love is quoted as saying “there is going to be plenty of work here” due to three high-end housing developments. That is all well and good, but the next council needs a plan and a vision to act on these projects effectively. Quite frankly, in the last four years, I have seen little positive council action on several existing and potential projects that would definitely benefit our municipality.
Here are my thoughts on several economic development issues. I would like voters and candidates to think about what could be done for each of these. I hope the mayor and councillors who are elected on October 22 will work proactively to bring ideas, investment, jobs, young people and tourists to our community.
Do voters know that the Township owns 400 acres of vacant land near the Bark Lake Dam? We need a plan for this land. The simplest thing a council could do would be to harvest the mature timber on it, but that is a short-term project. The next council should solicit proposals from the general public for ways to use this land which is adjacent to the Madawaska Kanu Camp. Perhaps hiking or mountain biking trails could be established there. What about yurts for camping? What about a solar power project on those south-facing hillsides? What about an RV park? The next council should seek ideas and partnerships to make this land work for the citizens and to provide jobs.
Real Estate Developments
Little Bark Bay seems to be moving along nicely and building continues on Sandhill Drive, but I haven’t heard much about the Chippawa Lodge development lately. Is Council doing everything it can to keep this project moving along?
Lakewood Developments on Bark Lake has been in the works for almost twenty years. I don’t think many people in the municipality are aware of the economic effect that a project of this magnitude could have. How can the new council bring this product to a successful conclusion which, if realized, will provide hundreds of jobs in the municipality?
Finally, you might remember that there is a large property on Kamaniskeg across from the hospital which was purchased years ago for a condominium development geared to seniors. The developer still owns this land and would like to sell it. What could a new council do to promote this property to potential developers?
Speaking of seniors, perhaps we could embark on a promotional campaign like the town of Elliot Lake in northern Ontario. Take a look at their advertising; we have all the same things they offer for a retirement lifestyle:
breathtaking scenery, sunlit beaches, golf, hiking, canoeing, and an abundance of arts and cultural pursuits … in a safe, clean, friendly community.
We could actually do better because we have greater proximity to major centres like Ottawa and Toronto. We just need a plan and the will to carry out that plan. A new council could prepare and distribute promotional packages or take a team to Elliott Lake to see what they are doing.
Tourism and Recreation
Everyone knows that tourism is the major industry in the Township of Madawaska Valley. Every day in the summer season hundreds of RVs pass through Barry’s Bay, Combermere and Wilno. Sadly, that is exactly what they do — pass through — because (to the best of my knowledge) there is no motor home trailer park in the entire municipality. Yet we have under-utilized vacant properties – some are near water and others even have water and sewage hookups. Perhaps the new council could encourage an entrepreneur or partner with a group to develop a facility like this which would encourage passers-by to become visitors who stay a night or a few days and spend their money in our community.
Then there is the former Mount Madawaska. The ski hill has potential, but for various reasons this has not been realized for the last two decades. The current owners, I am told, are interested in selling. Our Council should be promoting this actively to buyers. In addition to alpine skiing, there is sufficient land for cross-country skiing in the winter; and in the summer there are other uses that could be found for the trails. Perhaps it could be a space to host a large motorcycle rally. The lodge itself could become a desirable venue for events. Council has to help developers see the potential in this and every property in the Township.
Development or Desolation
I saw a comment on The Current’s election forum expressing a concern that we would become the next Muskoka with high, unaffordable taxes. I also heard from a friend that people on Facebook were expressing their pleasure that the tourists were leaving the community on Labour Day weekend and the community would be “quiet” again. With attitudes like this, our community will stagnate and die.
We need jobs to keep our young people here; we need jobs to attract young families; we need to encourage new businesses; we need to promote the Township of Madawaska Valley as the best place to live and invest; and we need to do whatever is necessary to make it the best place for these activities.
The next council has a lot of work to do.
About the author: John Hildebrandt, a fifth generation Valley resident, started Madawaska Doors with his father – a secondary manufacturing industry adding value to the traditional timber trade and marketing Valley products internationally. He served as an elected municipal official for 13 years through amalgamation, first as Reeve and then as Mayor of the newly-formed Madawaska Valley. He is particularly proud of his work in beginning the physician recruitment program with five neighbouring municipalities (still functioning today) as well as his role in Zurakowski Park. Although retired, he is actively involved in community issues such as hydro costs and access to medical services. The views expressed in this article are his own.