Submission re: South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan

click on map to enlarge

I am a lifelong environmentalist and outdoorsperson who hikes, mountain bikes, skis and snowshoes in the South March Highlands.

My first comments have to do with the public consultation process.

I was very pleased to see the full colour maps of the protected area at the open house presentation and to learn that more lands than I expected are being protected. In reviewing the maps it appears that more of the existing trails than expected may be included in the protected area.

Afterwards, I immediately went to the City of Ottawa website to see if I could review the maps and other documentation. However, as is usual, whenever I go to the City of Website to look for planning or development information I find it to be woefully inadequate.

It would be very useful if the public could access more details and background information on the City of Ottawa website in order to make better informed comments and suggestions.

One of the things that would be most useful to me in assessing the proposal and making suggestions regarding the trail network would be to see a map of the protected area with the existing trails overlaid. There are numerous trail maps available and I am appending a few that I have acquired to this document.

Before dealing with the trail network I want to address some real concerns I have about the impact of Terry Fox Drive on the conservation forest. Terry Fox Drive is an urban road that serves urban development. It should be routed through urban development land, not through land classified as rural conservation forest. To the extent that it has to cross the western portion of the protected land it should do so using as little protected land as possible.

Terry Fox Drive should absolutely not be bisecting the rural conservation forest in the way that it does. If the city is unwilling or unable to stand up to the land developers and put the road through urban development lands, the least it should do is route it along the southeastern edge of the conservation forest and not bisect the rural conservation forest.

The people of Kanata and Ottawa deserve at least an explanation as to why Terry Fox Drive is being routed the way that it is.

The rest of my comments will deal with the trail network.

As an environmentalist and serious hiker and mountain biker my first and primary concern is that the trails be kept in their natural rugged state and be retained as natural surface single track trails.

I understand that as a result of the environmental assessment process some trail rationalization may need to be done - some trails may require work to make them sustainable and some may need to be rerouted. I have no objection to improving the sustainability of the trail network as long as the network as a whole is not degraded. There may even be opportunities to build new trails for environmental reasons or to allow trail users to enjoy natural features in the area.

In particular, one trail known as “Outback”, is very long and can take up to four hours or more to hike. At several points that trail comes very close to adjoining trails. Making a link at one or more of those spots would allow hikers, who otherwise might not hike the whole trail all at once, to hike part of it at a time. Of course this would depend on whether there are environmentally suitable routes to make the links. This would also provide a faster exit for people injured on the trail and would provide faster access for emergency personnel, particularly in the winter when the cold is an added factor

In examining the map of the protected area we can see that it almost forms a circle providing the possibility of a large loop of interconnecting trails. This would require a link from the lands deeded to the City by KNL in the southeast end of the network to Trillium Forest in the northeast end of the network. Including a pathway between those two sections in the subdivision agreement would enhance the trail network in the protected area.

There has also been the possibility of wheelchair access pathways suggested. Despite the potential benefits of this, I do not wish to see the natural ruggedness and wilderness-like nature of the protected area compromised. One possibility is to build such a pathway around the “Beaver Pond”. This would also provide a place for casual walkers to enjoy the forest without ending up on the rugged natural trails in their high heels or sandals.

I understand the management plan will deal with the appropriate location of trailheads and parking facilities. I hope this will be done in such a way that natural features are not compromised. I would also suggest providing outhouses at the parking lots, as is done by the National Capital Commission at many of its parking lots in the greenbelt trail system.

Another issue that has been addressed by many trail users is the lack of signage, particularly due to the complexity of the trail system and the possibility of people getting lost. I trust this issue will be addressed in a way that detracts the least from the naturalness of the trails.

The last issue I want to address is public education. The official recognition of the South March Highlands Conservation Forest as a human-powered recreation area will make possible a more extensive public education program on responsible trail use. This has been something that the organized mountain biking community (OMBA) has been pursuing vigorously among its membership. However their membership does not include all trail users, and does not even include all mountain bikers. I would like to see the City fund an extensive public education program on responsible trail usage in co-operation with all trail user groups.

A good place to start in developing responsible trail use guidelines would be the IMBA Rules of the Trail.

Signage at the trail heads should include large trail maps on the signs along with responsible trail use guidelines. As well pamphlets with a map of the trails and the guidelines should be available.

I would also direct you to my previous comments on the South March Highlands Management Plan, “The South March Highlands - Kanata's Outdoor Wonderland”.

Maps of the South March Highlands and Kanata Lakes Trails

click on maps to enlarge

This has been sent to the South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan project manager and the four councillors representing Kanata on Ottawa City Council.


Jocelyn said...

This is a really interesting post. My husband and I live in Morgan's Grant and stumbled open the path last year when walking our puppy (a GSP). We can't believe what a gem we have in our backyards and were concerned that this might be taken away from us at some point. It is good to know this is protected land and that efforts are being made to protect it.

Peter Drinnan said...

2 years on since the last post. Today I rode through the forest north of the beaver pond for the last time. By tomorrow, the fences will be up and the bulldozers will start their work.