Trails near Wakefield adopted by Gatineau Park
By: Stuart Benson
Unofficial trails near Wakefield have been integrated into the official Gatineau Park trail network as part of Phase Two of the NCC’s Responsible Trail Management project for the park.
Ken Bouchard, vice president of Wakefield Trails, views the integration of 16.49 kilometres of trails into the official network as more of an “annex” of the local trail network rather than a subtraction, however.
“They've added almost 17 km of trails accessible from Mill Road,” Bouchard explained. “You can get to them by walking from downtown Wakefield."
Between 2014 and 2017, public consultations were held by the NCC with park users, stakeholders, associations and elected officials to share information and find solutions to reduce the environmental impact caused by the use of unofficial trails. The consultations allowed the park to identify over 100 km of unofficial trails, which could be integrated into the official network in four phases between 2018 and 2021.
Project manager Pierre-Olivier Dorego said that Phase Two is basically finished and that, other than a few minor details, the trails are ready and waiting for the public. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the NCC suspects Phase Three could face up to a year delay before completion.
“We have to finish levelling off some slopes and clearing the corridor, just to make them a little more usable," Dorego explained. “[But] all of the major work is done.”
Dorego said the trails around Wakefield received high marks – environmental sustainability and recreationally – making it easy to incorporate them into the network.
"For Wakefield, we incorporated basically all of the trails that were already there,” Dorego explained. “Sometimes with unofficial trails, you get kind of a mixed bag, but these ones were all good. Wakefield was easy to work with.”
Dorego attributes much of the trail’s quality to members of Wakefield’s hiking and mountain biking community, particularly Lisa Willemse of Vélo La Pêche, who the NCC contracted to help ‘shepherd’ the trails into the official network.
“We started work on the trails last year and I had a group of volunteers who would go out with me, maybe once or twice a week, to improve the trails, make them more sustainable and do some maintenance,” Willemse said. “The NCC was always aware that these trails were there and they know that they were well designed, so it was an easy thing to do.”
Willemse said that the unofficial trails were developed over many years by mountain bikers who weren’t satisfied with the more level and unexciting official trails, instead, creating their own, more challenging trails.
“Our initial goal when we formed Vélo La Pêche was to make the trails official in Gatineau Park, as well as getting more people involved in the sport,” explained Willemse. The group said they thought getting the unofficial trails to be designated as official trails would be a “long-term goal”, but because the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association was already in talks with the NCC, the official designation took less time.
Willemse also thanked Bouchard and the Wakefield Hiking community for being great partners.
For more information on where the new trails will be in all four phases, you can visit https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/projects/responsible-trail-management-in-gatineau-park.