The Ottawa Citizen
2004.10.15
Dave Rogers

RESTRICT GATINEAU PARK USE, STUDY SAYS: CONSULTANT URGES HIGHER FEES, EXPANDED CONSERVATION AREAS

The National Capital Commission plans to impose more user fees in Gatineau Park, encourage buses instead of cars, ban some recreation activities and expand conservation areas to help preserve the park.

In a 10-year master plan unveiled yesterday, NCC officials said conservation must become a higher priority so the growing number of visitors doesn't permanently damage the park.

A consultant's study shows the number of visits has increased from one million a year in 1980 to 1.7 million today. Unless something is done to limit park use, visits could increase to two million annually by 2020.

Michelle Comeau, vice-president of the NCC's environment, capital lands and parks branch, said new fees could reduce visitors, provide revenue for park operations and increase "equity" between those who already pay user fees and other visitors.

Del Degan, Masse and Associates, the consultant hired by the NCC, proposed a range of fees, including entrance fees to increase revenues by about $500,000 a year. Nature groups say an entrance fee would help preserve the ecological integrity of the park by discouraging car use.

About one million visitors use the Gatineau Parkway in summer and about 250,000 ski or snowshoe during the winter.

If approved, people would no longer be able to drive into the park for free. They could also have to pay for currently free activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, picnicking and mountain biking. Up to 61 per cent of visitors would pay user fees -- twice the 30 per cent who currently pay for things such as parking and skiing.

Park director Jean-Rene Doyon said NCC officials are considering banning snowmobiles, power boats and rock climbing because of the damage caused to the 33,000-hectare park.

"Mountain climbing on the Eardley Escarpment where we have a lot of endangered species creates a lot of difficulties," Mr. Doyon said. "We have doubt that it can continue there."

The plan recommends a 25-per-cent increase in conservation areas, which would remain open to most recreational activities. Some trails in environmentally sensitive areas could be closed, with new trails being opened elsewhere.

Under the master plan, McConnell-Laramee Boulevard would be completed through the park, but no new roads would be built within its boundaries. "This plan designates the park as a national heritage area," said NCC planner Lucie Bureau. "It will be used first for conservation purposes and then for recreation."

"The plan tells us that we need to allow natural processes to predominate, to facilitate the restoration of the degraded natural environment," said Ms. Bureau. "There are user conflicts and overuse of the park at certain times of the year."

She said NCC officials will consider relocating some recreation activities to the edge of the park to preserve its core.

Swimming, picnicking and other activities would continue at Meech Lake and Lac Philippe, but some activities, not yet identified, would be moved to the visitor centre near the park boundary.

"Gatineau Park should be seen as the capital region's conservation park," Ms. Bureau said. "The park should be seen as a complement to the region's development and not as the only place in the region where we can have recreational activities."

The park plan calls for "gateways" at park boundaries and regular bus routes to offer park users an alternative to cars. Visitor services would be concentrated at a few main entrances at Gamelin Boulevard in Hull, on Scott Road in Chelsea and at Lac Philippe in Masham.

"We don't want to build a fence around the park, but we want to make people feel they are really in a natural park, not on another road in the region," Ms. Bureau said. "The message we propose is that the national capital is respectful of nature."

Public discussions of the Gatineau Park master plan are scheduled in French at the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 27 and in English at the Canadian Museum of Nature from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 28.

The public has until Nov. 30 to comment on the proposed master plan. A summary of the plan and maps illustrating how the NCC hopes to develop the park are available on its website, www.canadascapital.gc.ca.

The final plan is to be approved in April.