Dawn Cant-Elliot collecting nails left on the Canada Summer Games mountain bike trail in St. Catharines. MIKE BALSOM

Dawn Cant-Elliot calls herself an optimist. She won’t let the vandalism that has been discovered on the Canada Summer Games mountain bike trail in St. Catharines darken her outlook.

When Cant-Elliot and other members of the volunteer Niagara Trail Maintenance Association (NTMA) discovered apparent attempts to injure the young cyclists who are competing at the games this week, they contacted the Niagara Regional Police.

In early July, between 20 and 25 trees were cut down most likely with the intent to alter the course route. On July 19, NTMA members discovered a large tree stump in the landing area of a jumping platform and tree branches bent across the path in a likely attempt to obstruct or hurt cyclists.

On July 24, they came across broken glass strewn across 800 meters of the bicycle course. A week later Cant-Elliott and others were back on the course picking up rusty nails. Fifteen pounds of them thus far.

“One of our members was out removing leaves on the course last Saturday,” the avid mountain biker said. “He called to tell me he was finding nails. I came out with a pail to help. There were a few of us out here, and we picked up a lot. We thought we had them all, but later that afternoon, another volunteer and his wife came out and gathered another three pounds.”

Cant-Elliott returned Sunday afternoon and found three additional pounds of nails. And more than that the following Tuesday.

The Voice met up with Cant-Elliott last Friday at the entrance to the north section of the trail on Lockhart Drive, below Brock University. She opened the back of her SUV and pointed to the heavy box of nails that were all retrieved from the course. The long nails were bent and caked with rust.

Before taking her visitor on a stroll through the neatly maintained bike course, she pulled out a telescopic magnet tool she sourced from Princess Auto.

“With this I don’t have to bend over as much,” she said with a laugh. “But my arms really hurt after a couple of days using it.”

Cant-Elliott walked along the course, waving the magnet to and fro across the width of the trail and along the low growth on the sides. It was evident how easily a twig could be mistaken for one of the alien objects. During the short walk, Cant-Elliott unearthed another handful of nails.

“These nails won’t just puncture a tire,” Cant-Elliott said. “These will tear your tire right apart.”

She said a tire costs between $100 and $150.

“These are young, major athletes. The Canada Summer Games is their next step in their career. Winning gold or not finishing can make or break their possibility for sponsorship deals.”

With the sun slanting through the trees, Cant-Elliott’s eagle eyes also detected a number of small pieces of broken glass during the walk. It’s hard not to conclude that the nails and glass were littered along the path with malicious intent.

Niagara Regional Police continue to undertake a mischief investigation into the July incidents. They are hoping that anyone with information will contact their 1 District Community Oriented Engagement & Response (CORE) Unit or place a call to Crimestoppers.

When contacted by the Voice, representatives from the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games Council declined to comment on the damage to the course.

“As with any incidence of vandalism on public or private property,” Niagara Region Chair Jim Bradley said in an email to the paper, “I am deeply disappointed that an individual would conduct themselves in such a destructive manner. In this specific case, it is more troubling as the acts of vandalism are more than just a nuisance and seem to be designed to potentially injure participants in the upcoming summer games event.”

Bradley said that it was unfortunate that a small group of individuals find amusement in being so destructive.

“I want to reassure the participants in the upcoming games that the safety of our visiting athletes is our top priority and those competing can do so without any concern that these acts of vandalism will impact the safety or quality of their event.”

Athletes from Canada’s ten provinces and three territories arrived last week to begin preparations for the games. Cyclists were scheduled for practice runs on the mountain bike course this past weekend, with the first races taking place Monday.

When work commenced on the 4.2 km mountain bike trail in 2021, there was some vocal opposition to the endeavor. The Friends of the Twelve Mile Creek, including Pelham native and former Olympic silver medal cyclist Steve Bauer, spoke out against changes to the land that is owned by Ontario Power Generation.

They raised concerns with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) that new sections along the path where rocks were removed would disrupt wildlife in the area and create slope instability. The NPCA stepped in to ask the Canada Summer Games to apply for a permit to the changes. The permit was approved on November 12, 2021.

NTMA came about in 2021 as an official organization with the focus of maintaining a safe trail environment that can be enjoyed by hikers, mountain bikers and other recreational users. Their website says their vision is to develop and maintain trails in keeping with the best practices of sustainability and ecological responsibility.

“We like to mountain bike, we like to hike,” Cant-Elliott said. “We love seeing the kids out here. We formed the association to have an organized group to come out and work on the trails, to keep them safe.”

The Dain City resident says the 70 members of the NTMA meet every Saturday morning to maintain trails across Niagara. Last September, for instance, they spread 175 wheelbarrows-full of gravel along what she refers to as the “two-bridge trail,” running from Brock University to Decew Road.

For the past year, though, most of their efforts have been focused on preparing the trail in time for the launch of the games last weekend.

“In the long term,” Cant-Elliott said, “we want to see provincial and national events hosted here in our backyard. We know what it will bring to the economy in this area. And with a course like this, we’ll be able to develop [mountain bike] riders that will one day make it to the Olympics.”

Cant-Elliott smiled broadly when she spoke about the future of the mountain bike course, though she admitted she was shaken by the attempts to wedge a stick into the NTMA’S spokes.

“It’s not so much the vandalism itself that bothers me,” Cant-Elliott said. “It’s the fact that a child could be hurt. This is a legacy project, these trails will be open to the public after the games. We want people to come out and enjoy this, to walk, hike or ride this trail for years to come.”