Development or conservation? NCC maps Gatineau Park's next 50 years

The National Capital Commission has begun its public consultation on the future of Gatineau Park, which had some people in Ottawa weighing the value of conservation against the potential for development.

The National Capital Commission has begun consultations to update the park's master plan

The National Capital Commission launched its consultation on the Gatineau Park Master Plan at the Delta Hotel in Ottawa on Oct. 19, 2017. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The perennial debate between those who would like to preserve Gatineau Park in its natural state and those who would like to develop parts of the sprawling green space dominated the discussion as the National Capital Commission kicked off public consultations on the park's future Thursday.

About 100 people gathered for the meeting at the Delta Hotel in downtown Ottawa for the first part of a two-year revamp of the park's master plan.

NCC CEO Dr. Mark Kristmanson said the discussion should be about a broad vision leading up to the bicentennial of Confederation in 2067.

"We should talk about boundaries. Do we need legislation? Can we bring smart city technology to become smart wilderness technology? How do we advance the future of the park in view of Indigenous reconciliation?" he said.

However, at several tables the discussion circled back to the tension between development and conservation.

Specialized mountain bike trails

Justin Goulding, an Ottawa resident, was particularly interested in the park's potential to host sporting events.

"A mountain bike specific trail network, which is dedicated with trails that are built specifically for mountain bikers, would bring a lot people to the area, allow more people to access the park in a way that's sustainable and more fun," he said.

Ottawa resident Justin Goulding says there are opportunities to open and expand world-class mountain bike trails, while balancing sustainability. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Goulding also said it could resolve some conflicts between people on bikes and hikers.

The Ottawa Mountain Bike Association's president was also at the meeting.

Sandra Beaubien said her organization is working with the NCC to resolve issues that limit the activity in the park.

Maintain 'natural health'

Ann Piche, an Orléans resident who makes a point of visiting the park on weekdays with her husband, was concerned about the park being carved up for different uses.

"If you start with humans first and nature second, you're not going to find the balance, because we always take over," she said.

Orléans resident Ann Piche says conservation should come first in Gatineau Park's master plan. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Piche said part of what makes Gatineau Park special is its isolation from major development, though she acknowledges it would be impossible to keep without people using the park.

"You have to find ... that point where you can get  people out and doing their activities, but that you also allow the park to maintain its natural health," she said.

'Cohabitation is sometimes difficult'

Luci Bureau, chief of planning and transportation for the NCC, said her department will be taking public feedback to find a balance.

"That cohabition is sometimes difficult and the master plan will try to address that, again like it did in the past, to help find new ways to address these issues," she said.

Bureau said the park will also be working to protect species that are endangered and protected by legislation.

Christie Spence, the National Capital Commission director of Quebec lands and Gatineau Park, joined the discussion on the park's future Thursday evening. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Christie Spence, the NCC's director of Quebec urban lands and Gatineau Park, said the consultation is an opportunity to take a step back and think about the next generations.

"We need to make some decisions about what kind of park we want to have down the road," she said. 

"We're hoping people will come with some kind of visionary ideas about what they want the park to be for their grandchildren."

The NCC is accepting submissions for the consultation on its website.

The next consultation will be held in Gatineau November 1.