Former Olympian calls on NCC to reopen Gatineau Park

Sue Hollaway, a two-time Olympic medallist, is part of a group of outdoor enthusiasts that's urging the National Capital Commission to open up more of its trails and pathways for public use during the pandemic.

Sue Holloway won 2 medals at 1984 Summer Olympics

Former Olympian Sue Holloway, seen here in 2016 during her induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, is part of a group calling for people wanting local access to the National Capital Commission trail network during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Mike Ridewood/The Canadian Press)

A group of outdoor enthusiasts that includes a former two-sport Olympian is urging the National Capital Commission (NCC) to open up more of Gatineau Park's trails and pathways to public use.

The NCC closed Gatineau Park and Greenbelt parking lots in late March to comply with  government restrictions around non-essential gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But according to four-time Olympian Sue Holloway, it's time to rethink that plan, given the role outdoor activity plays in maintaining people's physical and mental health.

"We still want to respect the guidelines," Holloway told CBC Radio's All In A Day Thursday. "But if more of the space was open that local people could access ... that would be great."

'Takes the pressure off'

Holloway was part of the Canadian contingent at both the Summer and Winter Olympics in 1976, first competing in cross-country skiing in Innsbruck and then later in canoeing in Montreal.

Eight years later, she won silver and bronze in canoe sprint at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Holloway was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

She told All In A Day that as the weather warms, busy sidewalks and pathways will become overrun with even more people seeking a bit of fresh air and exercise.

Her group's idea is to reopen more Gatineau Park spaces for people nearby while parking lots remain closed, just like the Greenbelt, so as to not encourage people to visit from far away.

"The limited facilities we do have — the sidewalks and pathways — are really overcrowded," Holloway said.

"It's just kind of a disaster waiting to happen. We need more space. And if we have the pathways and Gatineau Park [available], that just takes the pressure off."

The National Capital Commission has closed Gatineau Park to all users, even those who live nearby, until further notice. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

NCC to share plans soon

In a statement, the NCC said it would be revealing in the next few days how it would "respond to evolving public health directives" around the public use of its roads, parks, pathways and trails.

The NCC is already closing a stretch of Queen Elizabeth Driveway in Ottawa to vehicles between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., a move Holloway said was commendable.

Holloway said Canadian health officials have described the risk of contracting COVID-19 while exercising outdoors as "very, very minute."

And after a conversation with CEO Tobi Nussbaum earlier this week, she said she came away feeling both she and NCC were largely on the same page.

"I think they want to [allow more outdoor recreation]," she said. "And I think the public can let them know how important this is to them."

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