Wakefield Quebec’s forgotten gem

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by Nikki Mantell on March 24, 2010

Eight lanes, two roundabouts, on ramps, off ramps – in all the heated talk of proposed sewage plants and industrial parks and the effects they will have on picaresque Wakefield, Quebec, it’s surprising how little the Hwy 5 extension its impact the village entrance is entering the discussion.

The top of Valley Drive, where locals and visitors turn off to enter the village proper, is about to get pretty ugly. The Low Down got a peek at the Transport Quebec’s revised plans (updated from the ones released to the public this summer) and while they appear to be less of a mess than the earlier version, they still promise to change the landscape drastically with eight to ten times the amount of concrete and asphalt drivers currently see.

Once built, residents may (or may not) feel differently about the impact of an industrial park or sewage treatment plant that are so hotly debated right now.

But as our feature story points out this week, there is large -not little- gem of land that residents should add to that debate: 54 acres of beautiful, mostly untouched forest and field that extends from the highway right into the centre of the village. The NCC-owned prime real estate is completely off the radar of most villagers, and yet it provides the link to one of Wakefield’s greatest assets: the Gatineau Park.

Commerce Wakefield is to be congratulated for showing long-term vision and dusting off of this village gem so all the locals can appreciate its importance.

A visitor’s centre and “meaningful green corridor” make good sense.

For those who’ve hiked the trails, the outcrop over the Black Sheep offers a breathtaking vista: a panorama of the hills, river, village and the nature beyond. What better way to showcase the municipality’s best assets to visitors who would stop at an official NCC reception area?

An attractive reception area on the village side of the highway would also solve a problem for locals: parking. It’s already at a premium and if tourists had the option to leave the car at the reception area and make the quick, and pleasant, hike to the village it would help fulfill the village’s urban plan (PPU) of shaping Wakefield into a “walking” village. Remove the barrier of eight lanes of concrete and asphalt and visitors will make a habit of strolling in for bite or to do some shopping – an obvious incentive for Commerce Wakefield to lead the charge on this issue.

But locals would benefit from a river-to-park link too. Wakefield is investing in a $5.1 million into a community centre adjacent to the NCC land – and shouldn’t those kids and their grandparents have a safe, accessible route to do their hiking, biking and skiing in the Park? CW President Bob Milling envisions things like sleigh rides between Wakefield and Masham that could further build harmonious relations between the two villages.

It is the NCC that holds the real sway with Transport Quebec to make this project happen. They demanded the off ramp at Meech Creek and it appears they will get their way. When the Wakefield bypass was built, the culvert and trail that is the current link into the park is due to only to the lobbying of locals.

Commerce Wakefield will be going to the public to ask for their support on this request. La Peche residents who care about Wakefield’s tourist economy and the locals’ need for a safe, attractive, accessible trail into the park should get behind them.