Despite having to cancel its shuttle to view the fall colours this year, the National Capital Commission is looking for ways that will allow more people to enjoy its properties in coming months, including setting up a reservation system for Gatineau Park chalets.
"We're absolutely committed to finding ways that we can make outdoor life through the pandemic easier for residents of the capital," NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum told reporters Tuesday, following a meeting of the board of directors.
Nussbaum said he's meeting with staff this Friday to consider "how we can make it easier for people walk on our pathways in the winter, to thinking deeply about cross-country skiing."
The NCC offers cabins in the park for rent in winter, but also has a number of ski-in lodges — including Shilly Shally and Keogan — with wood-burning stoves that are very popular destinations for recreational skiiers. Nussbaum said the NCC is looking at whether it's feasible to create a reservation system for these chalets.
Nussbaum said the NCC is looking for ways to extend outdoor recreation to more people, while also following the public health guidelines to contain the spread of COVID-19.
That can be a challenge.
Last weekend, Gatineau Park was packed with people who were out to take in the fall colours, with a number of parking lots at capacity in the afternoons (some lots are closed in the mornings). The NCC had to cancel its shuttle service to and from the park, leaving those without access to a car out of luck.
"We just felt that we wouldn't be able to responsibly have people gather, waiting for the bus, on the bus, exiting the bus, waiting for the bus in the park," said Nussbaum. "We just felt we couldn't do it safely in a way that conformed to public health directives. So that was unfortunate."
He is encouraging people to consider less-busy areas of Gatineau Park — the NCC has listed some recommendations on its website — and other places in the capital for leaf-watching activities this holiday weekend.
Nussbaum called NCC's experiment to close several federally owned parkways on both sides of the Ottawa River to give pedestrians and cyclists more room to be out and about a "resounding success," clocking more than 600,000 visits. The program is scheduled to end this weekend.
Board approves expanded plan, gets LeBreton update
During the board meeting, directors approved a new 10-year plan to expand the NCC's cycling networks by more than a third. The NCC currently manages 220 kilometres of multi-use pathways. Tuesday, the board approved a plan to add another 115 kilometres by 2030, including along the Confederation Boulevard, the ceremonial route that passes in front of the Parliament buildings.
However, the project has no committed funding at the moment, which NCC staff and board members recognized was a "risk" to the project moving ahead.
As well, the board heard that the NCC will make a formal call on Oct. 30 for qualified bidders interested in developing 100 hectares of LeBreton Flats, near the site of the future central library. NCC staff hopes to award the contract by the end of 2021, with construction beginning the following year.