Developers in Ingonish, N.S., are a step closer to getting a tree walk and lookout tower built on top of Cape Smokey after officials from Victoria County took a trip to the Czech Republic.
Staff from the municipal office, the planning commission and the local economic development agency spent eight days in Europe meeting with tree walk architects and local government officials to get a sense of the impact the attractions have on planning rules and tourism.
Over the last several years, the owners of Destination Cape Smokey have revamped the ski hill, added a year-round gondola and are now building accommodations.
Victoria County Warden Bruce Morrison said a tree walk could lead to millions of dollars more in development in Ingonish.
"This has been a generational investment that has been put in here," he said. "They've invested over $40 million to this point, so we want to look forward and plan as they progress with this project."
The developers say the tree walk and a proposed craft brewery have both been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planning commission had technical questions
They have been planning the tree walk for years, but have been unable to get a building permit for the lookout tower, partly because the building code doesn't have any specifications for that, said Eastern District Planning Commission director John Bain.
"We haven't seen anything like this, obviously, in our area and so there were technical questions," he said.
Tree walks are ramps that lead people through a forest up to a tower that rises above the canopy.
Cape Smokey also has a year-round gondola to transport skiers and, potentially, tree walk visitors in the future. (Submitted by Cape Smokey Holding Ltd. )
Bain said a building permit has been issued for the tree walk itself, but it was the tower that raised questions, particularly about fire safety.
That's one of the main reasons for the trip to the Czech Republic, where the attractions have been used to revitalize the tourist economy in small communities, he said.
"It was good to see it, because you can see a sort of plan, but to be actually on it and see ... how long it took us to get off the tree walk and stuff like that, you just can't do [from drawings]," Bain said.
The attraction in Ingonish is planned for the top of the ski hill, which will provide visitors with a vista of the Cape Breton highlands and the Atlantic Ocean.
Tree walk will be 'transformational',' says Bain
"The tree walks themselves are just spectacular," Bain said.
"The one in Ingonish ... it's going to be transformational."
They have boosted local economies in the Czech Republic and will likely have the same effect in Victoria County, he said.
The planning commission covered the cost of two employees going to Europe and Victoria County paid for two and a half employees.
Morrison said the Cape Breton Partnership covered half the cost of the trip for the county's economic development officer and the county sent the chief administrative officer and tourism director.
Victoria County Warden Bruce Morrison says some constituents objected to the $12,000 cost of the trip, but he says it will be worth it if it pays off in millions of dollars in added development. (CBC)
The $12,000 price tag for Victoria County could pay off in millions of dollars in more development in Ingonish, although some constituents objected, he said.
"You're going to get that with any kind of exercise such as this, but we felt it was worth the cost," Morrison said.
"We felt it was an investment to get an idea of what the project would look like once it's complete."
Bain said having visited the Czech Republic and seen tree walks up close, officials can now adapt planning documents to safely accommodate the attractions in Victoria County.
The planning commission is looking forward to approving a building permit for the tower once an application is received, he said.
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