NCC turns to locals to plan Gatineau Park trails



Kate Aley

Man, that is some map.

Approximately 20 people attended a public consultation on the Responsible Trail Management Project organised by the National Capital Commission (NCC) held at the Luskville Community Centre on Monday, April 25. The purpose of the gathering was to hear concerns and requests from local residents regarding the official and unofficial trails that criss-cross the small but mighty Gatineau Park. Participants were rewarded with a intimate and sometimes surprising portrait of the piece of land that we know and love but sometimes put at risk.

NCC director Christine Spence began the evening by giving an insight to the challenges the Park currently faces.

Threats include the Park's relatively small size enclosed by an urban setting, the number of sensitive and threatened environments within it and it's increasing isolation from surrounding landscapes. According to the NCC, there are seven valuable ecosystems in Gatineau Park, which contains 150 at-risk species as well as many exotic and invasive species that are spreading into vulnerable ecosystems.

"The southern part of the Park is really in the city of Gatineau," said Mme. Spence. "There is such a proximity of people; it's close enough that they can come and they want to protect it, but there are just so many [visitors]. Our plan is to enhance recreation while protecting sensitive natural areas and reducing habitat fragmentation." 

Gatineau Park has 2.7 million visits per year. Judged by visitors per square kilometre, Gatineau Park is the second busiest park in Canada after Banff National Park in B.C.

Participants were seated in front of large unpublished maps showing the entire park with every pathway that currently exists, marked in different colours showing the status as either official or unofficial and the primary use, such as for walking, cycling or horse-riding. The documents also showed the varying densities of ecosystem overlap and also the areas of greatest use by the public. The revelations were fascinating and frequently chilling. A huge number of well-used trails are not deemed official by the NCC, including the popular Pilon Road trail. The most intensely-used area in the entire park is the escarpment face behind the Venturing Hills Farm on Ch. Cregheur in Luskville.

Using coloured pens to mark the trails, participants were encouraged to discuss and investigate which were significant or which should be closed or improved.

Questions to Mme. Spence and NCC biologist Catherine Verrault addressed contentious issues such as the presence of quads and bicycles in the park. One suggestion from the Pontiac Equestrian Association (PEA) was to create a trail from east to west, perhaps along the Hydro line, which could enable riders to cross the park and visit areas in La Peche and Wakefield. Keeping trails open in winter and maintaining access for emergency and search-and-rescue crews also were also mentioned.

The public consultation on Gatineau Park trails began in Oct. 2014 and will conclude this fall with a large but as yet undefined gathering to reveal the decisions made by the NCC with regards to closing or consecrating trails. "We don't have preconcieved notions [about the trails]," concluded Mme. Spence. "We're in it together and we want to involve as many people as possible and we appreciate your help."

To give your input about trails and access to Gatineau Park, write to before the 10th of May 2016.