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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

ACRE saves Chelsea forest

When it comes to preserving greenspace in Chelsea, Hills residents are certainly putting their money where their mouths are.

Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment (ACRE) has preserved 70 acres of land in Larrimac, thanks to the generous donations of 144 Hills residents, who raised close to half a million dollars to save the Jolicoeur-McMartin Forest.

The innovative deal that brings unlikely partners to the table will see ACRE purchase 70 acres of land behind the Larrimac Golf Course to become part of the Larrimac Ecological Corridor — a federally-recognized protected area for wildlife to move between Gatineau Park and the Gatineau River.

ACRE President Stephen Woodley said his organization had been eyeing the property for some time, as it boasts old-growth groves, including threatened butternut trees and “ancient wetlands,” and is home to several endangered species. The deal comes with a provision that states any future sale of the five new lots will see one per cent go back to ACRE for long-term stewardship.

“In the ponds, the turtles are at risk,” said Woodley. ”We get some nice populations of turtles in these ponds. There’s giant trillium. And there’s probably more once we do a full inventory of this place.”

ACRE paid $800,000 for 70 acres of land from Chelsea resident Pierre McMartin. A remaining 18 acres of his land is slated for the development of five homes at the end of Chemin Descartes, where McMartin said he plans to build his dream home.

“I really fell in love with this piece of land,” said McMartin, who purchased the property in 2011 with a vision of building a home connected to nature. “I’m a cross-country skier. And I’m a mountain biker. And I’ve always dreamed about owning a property that was connected to Gatineau Park.”

With this new deal, the trails that connect walkers, skiers, cyclists, or snowshoers from Larrimac to the Carbide Willson Ruins in Gatineau Park will remain public and protected. The majority of McMartin’s land will be protected from development. The deal will allow the community to continue enjoying the land for non-motorized recreation for years to come.

In return, the deal stipulates that McMartin will increase his development on Chemin Descartes from three lots to five.

McMartin said the real mover and shaker of this deal was land developer Carrie Wallace, whose Chelsea Highlands development borders the Jolicoeur-McMartin Forest at Larrimac.

When Wallace first pitched her development, both ACRE and McMartin were not in favour. ACRE didn’t want to see the golf club’s lands be developed and McMartin wanted Wallace’s development to provide him road access to his land for development. The three sides were at clear odds over one of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels of land in Chelsea, but Wallace, an environmentalist at heart, was determined to find a solution.

“When it comes to land deals, the stakes are so high for a conservation group like ACRE, for a landowner, because this is often somebody’s retirement,” said Wallace.

“There are big stakes all around.”

Wallace said she eventually brought a “business case” to McMartin — a proposal that would see McMartin get his dream home and ACRE its protected corridor.

“I really like what can happen when you bring together a group of people, who – at first glance – you might think had conflicting interests or objectives and come to some kind of new understanding,” said Wallace. “This thing is as feel good as it can get.”

Woodley stressed that ACRE is not “anti-development” and said the deal proves that two sides with seemingly competing interests can find common ground.

“We have to learn to get along with people we disagree with in life. And I give a lot of credit to bridges with Pierre McMartin,” said Woodley. “She speaks the development language and we don’t. So she was really critical in building the bridge there and in getting us all to work together.” Carrie [Wallace] for building.

ACRE saving more land

The latest land acquisition for ACRE adds to the already nine parcels of land the environmental organization has preserved in the last two years, which totals more than 300 acres of protected land in the Hills. ACRE director Olaf Jensen said the organization is eyeing even more properties to add to the corridor, but he wouldn’t spill any beans.

“In the last year and a half, it’s really heated up,” said Jensen. “There is lots of interest, a lot of excitement. There’s a lot of investment from both provincial and federal governments and from Gatineau Park in this kind of work. So yeah, we’ve been quite busy with some big projects.”

Wallace said she hopes the latest acquisition can be “inspirational” for other jurisdictions looking to conserve land. She said the Jolicoeur-McMartin Forest deal could be a case study that shows how developers and environmental organizations can work together for common goals that benefit entire communities.

“Even though it’s small in a national scene, it’s a really novel approach to doing a conservation project,” she said. “It would be great if somebody else thought, ‘Maybe this is an alternative, and maybe it doesn’t mean that working with an environmental organization means that I am going to lose my shirt or be pressured by the community.’”

Councillor for Ward 4, Christopher Blais, said the deal is good, not only for his constituents but the entire municipality of Chelsea. He said the eco-corridor maintains inclusive skiing, walking and hiking trails for the public, while sticking to Chelsea’s commitment to Canada’s 30 by 30 initiative, which aims to conserve at least 30 per cent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030.

“I think, ultimately, Chelsea was pretty clear in the elections that the environment is a top priority, if not the top priority,” said Blais. “Chelsea is extremely environmentally conscious. It means a lot to a lot of people, not just people in this ward.”


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