The National Capital Commission this summer will integrate an extra 16.5 kilometres of unofficial trails in Gatineau Park that visitors have forged over time into the park’s official network, as part of an ongoing effort to halt the steady spread of unsanctioned paths and protect the park’s ecological health.
Right now, the number of unofficial trails in the park, located north of Ottawa’s and Gatineau’s downtown cores, actually exceeds the total number of official ones. According to the NCC, users of the park — who range from mountain bikers to hikers, skiers and snowshoers — have created more than 330 kilometres of unofficial pathways over the years; by comparison, the park’s official network includes 200 kilometres of trails.
The NCC says the continued expansion of the unofficial trails is threatening the “ecological integrity” of Gatineau Park, and so it has moved to block off — or renaturalize — approximately two-thirds of the user-created trails it’s identified while integrating the remaining 100 kilometres in the official park network to placate visitors who prefer to go off the beaten path.
For the Crown corporation, which is responsible for managing federal lands and assets in the National Capital Region, the unofficial trails also “pose a public safety risk.” Namely, if a visitor to the park goes off the grid and gets lost, it becomes much harder to find them when they’re not in a spot found on the park’s official map, according to a spokesperson for the commission.
The 16-kilometre expansion of the park’s official network, approved by the Crown corporation’s board of directors on Thursday, is the second phase of what the NCC says will be a four-stage project. The agency first integrated about 10 kilometres of user-created trails in the south end of the park last fall.
Board member Michael Foderick asked staff whether it’s realistic to expect that park visitors will stay off the trails the NCC is trying to renaturalize when they’ve been using those paths for years.
NCC staff told the board they’ve been consulting extensively with the groups and stakeholders who represent the heavy users of the unofficial trails. These users were involved “very directly in both the creation and the closing of the trails,” staff said, adding they believe that this approach has helped people understand why the NCC is taking these steps and will encourage people to comply.
Staff said they aren’t ruling out using enforcement measures down the road, but what those might look like is unclear at this point.
“We’ll have to see how it goes,” NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum told reporters after the board meeting, his first public one as head of the commission. “Certainly, we have conservation officers who play a very constructive role and encourage people to follow the rules and so on.
“I don’t think we’re thinking about … anything heavy-handed.”
The next group of trails getting linked to Gatineau Park’s official network will extend from Cross Loop Road in the south end to P17 in Wakefield and Trail 53 in the north. Of those 16.5 kilometres, the NCC says about 8.6 kilometres represent existing official winter trails that will be converted to year-round trails.
With help from volunteers, the NCC will make improvements to the new set of official trails this summer, which will include trimming plants, levelling and clearing the paths and installing signs. The remaining 70 kilometres of unofficial trails the NCC wants to formalize will be integrated by fall 2021, the agency says.
NCC board approves design for Terrasses de la Chaudière exterior renos
In other Gatineau-related news, the NCC’s board on Thursday also approved the general design for the recladding of the Terrasses de la Chaudière, a complex of government office buildings with deteriorating facades located across the river from downtown Ottawa.
Since 1997, there have been two incidents where fragments of bricks fell from the exterior cladding, according to the NCC.
The renovation project, in the works for several years now, aims to replace the buildings’ existing brick veneer and precast panels with new “innovative” ones, in either black or silver. The NCC hopes the contrasting colours will help the complex’s individual towers stand out, rather than appearing to be one large mass.
A “major” rehabilitation of the buildings’ interiors is also planned for the complex, but that project is rolling out separately from the exterior upgrades, the NCC said.
The commission said it looked into retaining the complex’s existing brick cladding but ultimately determined that doing so would be “too risky from a structural point of view.” After taking the existing facades down, however, the agency promises to divert 75 per cent of the waste from landfills.
The NCC predicts the new facades will reduce the complex’s energy use by 24 per cent.
Staff said the federal department of public works is in charge of the “procurement and management of the construction project” at Terrasses de la Chaudière. It’s expected the site will get prepped for construction in August 2019.