The National Capital Commission's (NCC) newly released draft master plan for Gatineau Park emphasizes conservation, while at the same time encouraging park users to engage in outdoor activities that are environmentally friendly.
The plan, released Friday, calls for reducing the number of unofficial hiking trails and limiting development to protect sensitive habitats and ecosystems.
It also outlines a strategy to expand the park's boundaries by integrating adjacent NCC-owned land into its territory.
The draft plan was developed after a three-year consultation process where the NCC sought feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, including the park's users, representatives from local Indigenous communities, elected officials and special interest groups.
If the plan is approved by the commission's board, it will guide the long-term planning, use, and management of the sprawling green space for at least the next decade.
The public can submit feedback about the 119-page draft plan until Sept. 20 on the NCC website, after which the commission will work to finalize the plan with the goal of approving it by Jan. 2021.
Balancing conservation with recreation
The plan's four main goals are conservation, offering experiences in nature, promoting equitable and sustainable access, and fostering engagement and collaboration with park users.
"People are seeking natural experiences in the park. They want the park to remain natural, to conserve the wildlife, fauna, flora," said NCC senior manager Catherine Verreault. "They want to see transportation options to get to the park and within the park as well."
The plan stresses the importance of maintaining "ecological corridors" — largely forested areas that allow animals to move between different areas of the park.
It also looks to reduce the fragmentation of natural habitats created by trails, roads or recreational facilities.
With these goals in mind, Verreault said the plan calls for maintaining the same level of development in the park that currently exists.
Verreault said that means neither expanding the number of trails and roads the park currently has, nor its current infrastructure.
"When we open something, [we would] close something else that is maybe less used or that can be in conflict with sensitive habitats."
The master plan would ban the use of drones in the park, except when used by park officials. It would also close parkways at night to help reduce light and noise pollution and prohibit nighttime events that may be noisy or require lighting.
The draft plan does include a number of strategic projects, such as construction of new visitor centres at Luskville and the Relais Plein Air.
Facilities at the Lac Philippe campground are due for an upgrade and Camp Fortune would become the starting point for a network of trails connecting different parts of the park which could be used for mountain biking, cross-country skiing and hiking.
The plan calls for increased parking at the edges of the park, but states that other transportation options should be considered before more parking is added. One thing the plan does say is that there should not be any more parking added to areas near the Gatineau, Champlain and Fortune Lake parkways.
Under the proposed Responsible Trail Management initiative, park organizers would integrate 100 km of "unofficial trails" — those created by park users which aren't maintained by the NCC — into the park's official trail network, while simultaneously closing more than 200 km of other unofficial trails. The park currently has approximately 200 km of official trails and around 330 km of unofficial trails.
"The problems with those trails is that they were not built by the NCC and a lot of time they will cross sensitive habitats or designated species at risk habitat," said Verreault. "Those places we have to protect by law."
The NCC also plans to review the park's fee structure and improve data collection about visitor's experiences.