With some serious TLC, this trail could be an excellent active transportation connection up and down the escarpment.
By Martin Zarate
Published July 23, 2015
With the recent RTH discussion about bike routes up and down the escarpment, I noticed that there is an additional mountain access that rarely gets talked about. I don't even know if it has a name.
Trail from John and Louisa to Southam Park (Image Credit: Google Maps)
It runs from the top of John Street at Louisa Avenue beside the Claremont Access to the top of the James Street Stairs at Southam Park.
After the discussion on RTH, I noticed this trail on Google Maps and decided to go explore it. It's quite a sight. I didn't take pictures, but RTH editor Ryan McGreal took some yesterday for this article.
Trail starting at John Street South and Louisa Avenue
It is paved for the first 80 metres or so, after which it switches to loose gravel and sand.
Trail switches to loose gravel and sand
It bends west and runs diagonally up the escarpment at a fairly steep angle.
Trail bending west
Closer to the top of the escarpment, it pulls abreast the Claremont Access and runs parallel to it the rest of the way up.
Trail meets the Claremont Access
Trail running beside the Claremont Access
The trail angles up a ramp with a guard rail to become level with the Claremont.
Ramp up to Claremont Access, facing east
At the top of the James Street stairs, there is a gap in the jersey barrier blocking the Access, but the gap has been covered by a bolted-on highway guard rail.
Blocked gap in barrier at top of James Street stairs
A bit farther west, there is a proper opening in the jersey barriers across from a short staircase that leads up into Southam Park.
Gap in Claremont barrier opposite Southam Park
Short staircase into Southam Park
I stopped when I reached the sidewalk next to the Claremont, but the sidewalk continues west alongside the Claremont extension that turns into West 5th.
Sidewalk next to Claremont extension over to West 5th
First off, the good: It has almost no stairs. Walking a bike up this trail is totally doable, and riding it down is as well, provided you're squeezing the brakes the whole way.
On the other hand, the bad:
It's poorly-maintained dirt path with large boulders, deep gouges from rivulets, and dog poop. It would suck after a storm.
It's unsigned - the entrance was marked with nothing but a traffic cone.
Holy crap Louisa is steep. I tried biking up to the trailhead and I thought I was going to strip chainring or something (my front derailleur is broken so I can't shift down low-enough). Normally I'm all about biking hills, but this is a rough one.
It's narrow in places.
There is no illumination, and the only fence is to keep the graffiti off the Claremont supports (the fence honestly looks worse than the graffiti) and it's a pretty precarious drop on the side of the trail.
John Street is unforgiving to cyclists, particularly as you approach the Jolley Cut and it drops down to one up-bound lane as it steepens. I think some drivers hate cyclists a little more now thanks to being stuck behind me. A James -> St Joe's Drive -> Mountainwood -> Lousia route might be better (the reverse is what I took back), but that's getting to some unlikely wayfinding.
The top end is an embarrassment. I'd never walked the James Street stairs so I didn't know about the trainwreck of a blocked-off gap in the jersey barriers across to the green space on the other side of the access.
The new endpoint of the James Street stairs is a bit west of there and, of course, involves stairs.
Right now the City is asking for feedback about the City of Hamilton's trails as they relate to the Trails Master Plan.
This route is identified as the "Chedoke Rail Trail Claremont Link (2-4)". I think this one could use some serious TLC and provide a great service to Hamilton's cyclists and hikers (and wheelchair-bound folks?).
However, the master plan identifies it as "Phase 3" which means it's low priority. The one single mountain cut that has no stairs for pedestrians and cyclists. Well, almost no stairs, and only has no stairs because figuring out how to get people across the West 5th leg of the Claremont without stairs was too hard.
With files from Ryan McGreal
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