Imagine being able to hop on your bike in Chelsea on a sunny, summer day, stop off in Wakefield for a meal or some ice-cream and then ride on to Low or beyond — all on a dedicated active transport trail. Sections of the trail already exist, but La Pêche is “the missing link” in the Outaouais — something that’s about to change.
La Pêche council recently announced funding to complete the missing sections of trail. Details are still being worked out, but two areas of work are being proposed over the next three years.
The first is the section of trail along the existing railroad tracks between Chemin Rockhurst at the south end of the village of Wakefield and Farm Point in Chelsea. This is a relatively simple project. The land is entirely owned by the municipality, it is nowhere near a provincial road, and it does not require new infrastructure but simply the improvement of the existing track, Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux explained.
The second section is considerably more challenging. Currently, the Trans Canada Trail follows Chemin de la Rivière on the east side of the Gatineau River from Wakefield all the way to the Paugan Dam in Low, where it crosses back over the river and links up with the Véloroute des Draveur in Low, which, along the old railway line, extends all the way to Maniwaki and beyond.
The proposed trail would instead cross from Chemin de la Rivière over the Farrellton Bridge and create a link to the Véloroute des Draveur south of Low.
Lamoureux commented that this “is a much more complicated segment.” South of Low there is a point where the old train tracks merged with Hwy 105. Not all the land is municipal property and some of the areas pose technical challenges, he added.
Referring to the project as a whole, Lamoureux said, “I see it as a great opportunity for our community to benefit from a local active transportation infrastructure like what residents in Mont-Laurier enjoy with Le P’tit Train du Nord.”
Le P’tit Train du Nord is a 234-km cycle path built over an old railway line from Bois-des-Filon to Mont-Laurier in the Laurentians north of Montreal. It is the longest park of its kind in Canada and is well used by pedestrians, cyclists, in-line skaters, and cross-country skiers.
Ken Bouchard of Sentiers Wakefield Trails noted that there are more than 150,000 people enjoying the 10 kilometres of trails their organization is responsible for in the village. He also emphasized that the trail being considered north of Farrellton will not be used by ATVs in the summer months, which has been a concern for residents in the past.
Lamoureux commented that the creation of the uninterrupted trail is one way to boost the regional economy. He added that La Pêche is a trailhead, a place where many trails of all kinds begin, adding, “We have to do this. It’s a no brainer.”
To eventually link the Voie Verte trail in Chelsea to Wakefield, Farrellton and Low, La Pêche will contribute $230,000 this year, $800,000 next year, and $1.5 million in 2025.
In 2023, the plan for the first phase of the Wakefield to Farm Point section, being referred to as Voie Verte La Pêche, is to complete the feasibility and environmental assessment. For the Farrellton to the Véloroute des Draveur section, a 2018 study that was funded by the Trans Canada Trail will be updated, Lamoureux explained.
“In the village itself, we are not considering removing the tracks,” said Lamoureux. He noted that given the proximity of the river, it is much safer to leave everything undisturbed. “Between Valley Drive and Chemin Rockhurst, you are so close to the river. The track is really in the shoreline,” he pointed out.
He also explained that Sentiers Wakefield Trails has been in consultation with residents whose properties are adjacent to the tracks. There are some differing opinions about the width of the proposed trail, which could range between 2.5 metres and 3.5 metres, however residents are tending towards preferring a narrower trail compared to Voie Verte in Chelsea.
Lamoureux said there are definitely benefits to going narrower. In addition to being more cost effective, “when you are on a narrower path, it doesn’t feel like a bicycle highway. You feel much more connected to nature. You feel the forest on both sides. I’ve experienced it biking across the province and the country,” he commented.
Lamoureux said there is generally a high level of support for the expansion of the active transport trail in the community. “Largely speaking, people are waiting for us to do this,” said Lamoureux. “I think for La Pêche it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”