NCC planning Gatineau Park trail expansion

NCC planning Gatineau Park trail expansion

The National Capital Commission is proposing to add more than 100 kilometres of new trails to Gatineau Park in an attempt to keep visitors off an expanding network of unofficial trails it says pose safety and environmental threat.

The NCC said it's been consulting park users, politicians and people living near the park since June 2014 about its trail network.

The park already has around 200 kilometres of official trails, but the NCC said the number of clandestine trails has been steadily growing as mountain biking and snowshoeing take off in popularity. The park's trail network wasn't originally designed for many of those activities, the NCC said.

The NCC has mapped more than 300 kilometres of these unofficial paths, according to Gatineau Park director Christie Spence.

"The challenges are mostly environmental.… We have species at risk, over 150 in the park that we're legally obligated to protect, including their habitats," she said.

"When users are creating these trails they're not necessarily aware of these sensitivities."

The NCC is proposing another 110 kilometres of sanctioned trails, hoping their addition will discourage park-goers from wandering off-piste. 

"We really engaged the user groups in an intensive way. We started out by saying, 'What trails do you use, and when you use them what kind of experience are you looking for? And if you had to choose, which ones are most important to you?'" she said.

Spence said once the NCC had a clear picture of user demand, it did an extensive ecological analysis of the proposed trail expansion.

"Then there was a third filter from a logistical perspective: Can we maintain these trails? How accessible are they through the [existing trail] networks? How many different kind of users could enjoy this trail? We're trying to get the biggest bang for our buck."

The new trails would be designed to be low-maintenance to keep costs down, the NCC said.

The plans are still being finalized, and a survey will remain on the NCC's website until May 15.

Spence said the goal is to get the new trails ready over the next three to five years, starting by the end of this summer.

Environmentalists, mountain bikers pleased

Around 150 people filled a room at the NCC's downtown Ottawa headquarters for a public consultation about the trail system Thursday night.

Among those in attendance was John Westdal, an Ottawa mountain biker who said afterward he's "very pleased" with the plan. 

"The majority of the trails right now are beginner or intermediate level and don't appeal to the majority of the mountain bike community, and I think that's driven some of the unofficial trails," he said.

Chelsea resident Nicole Desroches, who described herself as an environmentalist, was pleased with the focus on conservation as well as recreation.

"Obviously the fragmentation [and] protection of habitat is something that's important to me," she said.