I recently came across this great article posted on the NCC’s website by Pierre-Olivier Dorego, the NCC’s Manager for Outdoor Recreation in Gatineau Park. This article gives a great glimpse into the challenges and methods employed by the NCC as they expand the Gatineau Park trail network to incorporate some of the unofficial trails and restore others to a natural state. Worth a read if you are interested in the 100km of new trails coming online over the coming years!
A few years ago, when we initially began to look at addressing the problem of unofficial trails in Gatineau Park, our thinking was to harmonize the needs and requests of Park users with the Park’s conservation mandate. So we created the Responsible Trail Management project.
Now, after four years of public consultations, and environmental and recreational assessments, we are proud to announce that we have begun the implementation phase of the Responsible Trail Management project.
Unofficial trails are problematic
The size of a natural habitat is a good indicator of the biodiversity it contains. The larger a natural habitat is, the greater the chances one has of finding a wide diversity of plant and animal species there.
Because they fragment the habitats in which they are created, unofficial trails decrease the size of natural habitats and change the natural processes that support them. For example, creating a trail can allow more light to penetrate through to the ground, increase the local temperature, or redirect winds and water runoff.
Although they may seem minor to the human eye, these changes are likely to promote the introduction of invasive species, for example, and present a real threat to biodiversity.
Project implementation phase
The project involves some 100 kilometres of existing unofficial trails in Gatineau Park, and will be implemented over a period of four years.
These trails were chosen because of user preference and the quality of the experience that they offer, as well as the fact that they will have a minimal environmental impact. They will become part of the official network of trails in the Park, and will be indicated on the trail maps and have their own signage.
The consultation process helped us to understand that, in creating and using unofficial trails, users are seeking a different experience from that currently offered in the Park. For this reason, in the interest of motivating users to remain on the official trails, this new network will offer a different experience from what exists in the Park’s current trail network:
- Narrower trails with several types of technical challenges, varied terrain and an off-the-beaten-path type of experience.
- These trails will also allow users to choose interesting loops, with different trail options linking to various parts of the Park.
A network for users, by users
The new official trails will be rehabilitated and maintained on a regular basis through a partnership between different volunteer groups and the NCC. Work crews will be organized on some weekday evenings and some weekends.
Work is carried out using various specialized tools, and no machinery, to maintain an authentic natural state on the trails. Most of the work being done, which is aimed at improving trail sustainability, is related to drainage and erosion problems, as well as measures to lessen the environmental impact.
This problem can be rectified through various methods developed by different organizations and companies specializing in developing sustainable trails. These methods include the following:
- Knicks, which are semicircles dug into the trail and outsloped at 15 percent to allow water to drain;
- Grade reversals, combined with knicks, allowing water drainage on steeper trails;
- Rock armouring, which involves using rocks to solidify the trail tread or to raise it to cross over a problematic area.
The objective of making certain unofficial trails part of the official trail network is to create a positive environmental impact. NCC biologists have studied and walked the unofficial trails to assess the environmental impact of a change in use. Trails were assessed according to the following ecological factors:
- species at risk protected by law;
- rivers, lakes and streams;
- habitats protected by law;
- field analysis and analysis using a geographic information system (GIS).
Before and after – Rock armouring work on a section of trail that experiences regular flooding. This work helps establish a sustainable trail tread and reduce the trail’s impact.
The results of this analysis allowed them to select the trails that have the least environmental impact but meet recreational demands. The selected trails will undergo rehabilitation and maintenance work to ensure that they have the smallest possible ecological footprint. The other unofficial trails — those that pose a threat to fragile habitats in the Park and do not offer a unique recreational experience — will be restored to their natural state.
Restoration of unofficial trails
One key objective of the Responsible Trail Management project is to reduce habitat fragmentation by restoring about 200 kilometres of unofficial trails to their natural state. In terms of restoration, we mean allowing nature to recover and take over the space once occupied by a trail.
This is a process that occurs naturally if users stop using a trail, but it takes time. We can accelerate the process by camouflaging the entrances to these trails by planting vegetation, but these methods are effective only if the trail closures are respected.
For this reason, your participation, as trail users, is crucial. Please help protect the environment by using only official trails and obeying the signage in place.
On the left, a restored path. The entrance was camouflaged and we planted trees to speed up the restoration process.
Over the next four years, Gatineau Park, in partnership with volunteer organizations in the region, will work to make 100 kilometres of unofficial trails part of the official trail network, and restore 200 kilometres of unofficial trails to their natural state. We are proud to have been able to work with the community to create a project that balances the recreational offer with the needs of users, while also respecting the Park’s ecological integrity.
This is only the beginning of this project, and your involvement over the coming years will be essential to ensure its success.