The NCC “officializes” the wilderness trails of Gatineau Park

After years of warning Gatineau Park visitors to stay on the trail, the National Capital Commission (NCC) has begun converting many supposedly rogue walking and biking trails into legitimate routes.

In addition to the 200 kilometers of official forest roads maintained by the NCC, park managers estimate that there are more than 300 kilometers of additional unofficial trails.

The number of these trails snowballed in the age of mobile mapping apps like AllTrails, and starting in 2017, the NCC began taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach. .

Off-trail misadventures have become commonplace in Gatineau Park in recent years.

Last November, a hiker was injured on a steep cliff and had to be rescued by firefighters from several municipalities bordering the park.

Shortly after another visitor wandered off a designated path, got lost and had to be rescued.

“It’s always complicated, and it’s nighttime,” said Chelsea Fire Chief Charles Ethier, who highlighted the risk to rescuers.

“There is a risk of falling, so it is always a difficult intervention.”

Even if a lost hiker’s phone has reception, simply sending rescuers coordinates may not help if there is no record of the trail the visitor followed in their predicament, a said Ethier.

The green lines show some of the proposed trails for “feature” inside the park. (National Capital Commission)

Pierre-Olivier Dorego, head of outdoor recreation at Gatineau Park, admitted that the proliferation of new trails in the forest by users of mapping applications has caused new headaches for park authorities.

Yet the planners tried to take a philosophical approach.

“We have to keep in mind that these trails are there for a reason,” said Dorego, who added DIY trails that often connect residential neighborhoods to the park or provide a recreational experience not available elsewhere.

As early as 2017, the NCC held public consultations with users to find out which unofficial trails deserved to be made official.

Hang gliders, horse riders, snowmobilers, hikers, cyclists and other groups weighed in in a series of town hall meetings.

In the end, about 100 kilometers of the 330 kilometers of unlicensed routes were accepted, often with modifications, with DIY trails being assessed for their recreational value and environmental impact.

Chelsea Fire Chief Charles Ethier said rescues in the park are difficult, dangerous and expensive. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Dorego said some proposed routes should be banned immediately when they trace a course through sensitive and legally protected habitats for animals like peregrine falcons, western chorus frogs or American butternuts.

Others have caused unacceptable fragmentation in the range of large mammals like deer.

But in many other cases, the park has allowed users to take the lead.

“We hope these will provide the experiences people are looking for on unofficial trails and we can close unofficial trails that are problematic from a safety and environmental perspective,” Dorego said.

Phase 1, completed in 2019, formalized approximately 14 kilometers of trails. He brought trails 41, 42, 43, 66, 67, 68, 76, 77, 79 and 80 in Gatineau and Chelsea into the canon of the NCC.

Phase 2 added 53B, 58, 59 and 72B, approximately 17 kilometers in total, in the Wakefield area.

LOOK | Why is the NCC giving official status to some rogue Gatineau Park hiking trails

Why is the NCC giving official status to some rogue Gatineau Park hiking trails

Pierre-Olivier Dorego, outdoor recreation manager for Gatineau Park, says the National Capital Commission will convert some of the park’s many unofficial trails to legitimate routes because ad hoc trails pose both problems safety and environment.

Volunteers have given thousands of hours of their time trimming, pruning and blazing the paths that are approved by the NCC.

Dorego estimates that by the summer of 2024, 100 kilometers of crowdsourced routes will appear on official NCC maps.

It’s music to the ears of Patrick Hannan, who confessed to mountain biking on “unofficial trails” and frequently bumping into hikers who were also on prohibited routes.

“By making it official, they know it’s a shared track. I get less insults or remarks,” he said.

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