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Discussion: Help us save orienteering in Gatineau Park

in: Orienteering; General

Sep 14, 2020 7:43 PM # 
Canada's National Capital Commission (NCC) has just released a new Draft Master Plan for Gatineau Park (just outside of Ottawa). The park covers 361 square km of world class terrain and is one of the main reasons why Ottawa has such a strong Orienteering Club.

Unfortunately, as part of this new plan orienteering would be banned in 98% of the park and preventing us from using a half dozen maps, many of which have cost us up to ten thousand dollars in recent years.

Orienteering Ottawa has been trying to work with Gatineau Park but

You can find more about Orienteering Ottawa but the NCC hasn't been willing to negotiate. Now they're asking for public comments on the draft plan.

It would help us if you could share comments here if you've had any experience Orienteering in Gatineau Park or the Ottawa area.

For more details on the impacts to orienteering and what our club’s response has been so far, please see the website we created: Please feel free to share the link to your contacts and on social media.

You may wish to use our Gatineau Park Master Plan Committee's wording in your comments. Here is Orienteering Ottawa's standpoint:

  • We have a 50-year history of successful events in the Park with the full cooperation of NCC staff.

  • Orienteering is a leader in organizing activities in the Park in a responsible way.

  • Orienteering is a no-trace sport.

  • Orienteers do not create, nor want new trails.

  • We are asking to be allowed to use the existing maps we have in the Lac Philippe, P17, Meech Valley, Fortune and Kingsmere areas.

  • There has been no proof of orienteering ever contributing to environmental or ecological damage in the Gatineau Park.

  • Scientific research proving that the sport does not have any lasting damage on the terrain has been provided to the NCC.

Thank you for taking the time to contribute to our efforts!
Sep 14, 2020 8:05 PM # 
Would comments from U.S. orienteers be helpful, or should this be limited to Canadians? Really hope the NCC reverses its decision!!!
Sep 14, 2020 8:26 PM # 
Comment from US orienteers are definitely welcome! Especially if you have personal experience orienteering in the park.

Note that comments are anonymous (though they may be recording IP addresses) and we don't have any way of knowing for sure how they will use these comments.
Sep 14, 2020 9:38 PM # 
Very good bullet points above. These make a very good template for any club's permission efforts with a land manager.
Sep 14, 2020 9:42 PM # 
The issue with orienteering and the Gatineau Park is that a lot of the activity is done off trail thereforein their minds the activity must be bad for the park flora and fauna. It is an issue that spreads beyond the Gatineau Park to every national park in Canada and many provincial parks.
To me if a Canadian plant can survive a Canadian winter it can also survive a Canadian's footprint. Same with wildlife.
But the biologist: it's not that they say different. They just say damage MIGHT be caused and no one in authority asks them for proof that it has happened.
Now it has become a snowball effect. A few authorities have banned off-trail activity so more feel they'd better do the same. For the reasons Canadian has stated above and to make sure this ban does not come to a park near you if you can add your Gatineau Park experience please do so.

There are two other issues that may be 'elephants in the room'. Park officials could fear that people going off trail 1) may get lost and necessitate a search or 2) may get injured and sue the park. (Hey I was in city government for 30 years. I know the strength of 'risk management' - if it is not allowed to happen it is not a risk.) Orienteering should be making sure that in both instances organized and insured orienteering events have the park's interest up front. With safety bearing, phone numbers and our own search procedures that the event officials don't leave until everyone is counted as back should cover that concern. Our event insurance covers the parks for not one, not two but five million dollars. That plus our waiver should put their minds at ease there.
What can we hope for out of the Gatineau Park? I think it is that they realize from your comments that there is a lot of benefit to the park and to the participants from allowing organized and controlled events in more of the park. So they write an addendum to their statement that there should be no off-trail activity in the Outdoor Recreation zone unless it is a permitted activity planned in consultation with park authorities.
Sep 14, 2020 9:42 PM # 
Just submitted my comments.
Sep 14, 2020 11:20 PM # 
Besides orienteering, Gatineau provides impeccable XC grooming in the winter...which is a nice companion activity to the natural ice skating on the Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa.

Submitted my comments.
Sep 15, 2020 2:53 AM # 
Comments submitted. This would be a huge loss.
Sep 15, 2020 3:32 AM # 
Will there be any public hearings/meetings on this plan?
Sep 15, 2020 11:32 AM # 
There have been various stages of public consultations and rounds of feedback as they've been working up to this draft master plan over the last few years. We've been doing our best to insert ourselves into the process all along.
Sep 15, 2020 3:13 PM # 
J Anderson:
Thanks all for submitting your comments. If you want to add an additional comment, or now remember something you wish you'd included, you can go back to the same link and submit again.
Please share the website with your club-mates and anyone you know who is (or has been) a Gatineau Park user.
Sep 15, 2020 4:24 PM # 
Submitted. Good luck to OOC!!
Sep 15, 2020 4:35 PM # 
Comments submitted, pointing out that people come from all over and provide tourism dollars when we attend OOC events in the park.
Sep 15, 2020 5:13 PM # 
Out of interest, where in the Plan does it actually say that orienteering will be banned in 98% of the park? In the events section, it talks about on-trail recreation but then it also says: " Sports competitions may be acceptable elsewhere in the park if the evaluation using the Activity and Event Acceptability Grid is satisfactory".

Or have they already indicated that they will find orienteering not to be satisfactory.
Sep 15, 2020 6:02 PM # 
J Anderson:
The 2% where they say they will allow us to orienteer is a section of our Cité des jeunes map, south of the powerline. We will still be required to submit control locations 3 weeks ahead and obtain a permit. As for the rest of the Park, it's a 'no' - even in what is called the Outdoor Recreation Area.

As for the Grid, it has not yet been developed but we have been advised that orienteering will not be accepted as it implies off-trail use.

It's important that people know we have been working with the NCC quite successfully for over 50 years. The events protocol they have in place in order to protect the environment and the animals are certainly important, and we have always been glad to adhere to them. We have offered to them a number of different ways we can adjust our events to decrease the risk to the environment even more. We currently only use a map once per year, but we've also offered to limit the participation on certain maps per event (amongst other suggestions we've offered).

Right now, the easy answer for them is 'no'. We have to get enough people to write in and tell them what a unique sport this is. We are low-impact, clean-air driven, respectful people and we are a model organization. It would be absolutely absurd for them to wipe orienteering from the park.

If you live in the region, you may also wish to write your MP.
Thanks for all your help!
Sep 15, 2020 7:52 PM # 
...Right now, the easy answer for them is 'no',,,

Amen! The lazy bureaucrat's job description...just say No! With no effort to find creative ways to expand the value and harmless usage of this valuable public resource.
Sep 15, 2020 8:18 PM # 
Sep 16, 2020 2:41 AM # 
When are they going to kill the deer?
Sep 16, 2020 4:18 AM # 
Is it known what activities that have actually been taking place will, if this gets enacted, be prohibited in addition to orienteering? Or is this entirely about preventing hypothetical problems?
Sep 16, 2020 5:52 PM # 
Comments submitted.

I noted that there is a Sept 20 deadline for comments, so if you want to say something, don't procrastinate...
Sep 16, 2020 6:37 PM # 
Mike, thanks for highlighting that!

Jon, there definitely rambling groups that are going off trail (these are probably the largest contributors to new trail conditions as they walk in sometimes large groups). Then there are also various individuals that go off-trail for a variety of reasons including finding climbing spots, picking mushrooms, simply exploring, and, in the south end of the park closest to the city there are lots of campfires and beer cans in the middle of the woods. The south end closest to the city is the small area where they are still allowing us to orienteer. It feels like they are throwing their hands up in the air and giving up on trying to control that part of the park. It's a 1.5-2km wide stretch of park with suburban neighbourhoods on both sides.
Sep 16, 2020 9:41 PM # 
Speaking as an ex public servant, I have noticed in the past that a little public scrutiny in the popular media often seems more effective than private discussions in changing bureaucratic perceptions of an issue..
Sep 18, 2020 1:44 PM # 
Three days to enter your comments. Last day is Sunday September 20th.
Sep 18, 2020 3:25 PM # 
It seems that existing informal trails are one of the main issues the NCC is concerned about. If so, has the club suggested that they can make all such trails explicitly out of bounds for all their events (assuming there are such trails on club's maps)? If not, would it make sense for those commenting on the plan to mention this possibility?
Sep 18, 2020 5:59 PM # 
Very sad news indeed. That is what all socialists do: they rob you of freedom to go to forest and run off-trail. People of Canada/Quebec should take note and get rid of neo-bolsheviks in their government.
Sep 18, 2020 10:16 PM # 
Good luck with this fight. Don't underestimate the power of connections - if you can find someone influential to lobby high up the decision making chain that may help.

lol, classic quote..."Very sad news indeed. That is what all socialists do: they rob you of freedom to go to forest and run off-trail."

The capitalists would probably sell the forest, send the loggers in to clear fell it and turn the new open space into a golf course and condos.
Sep 19, 2020 1:04 AM # 
Here's the Ottawa Citizen's local sports writer tweeting about this:
Sep 19, 2020 3:04 AM # 
If illegal trails are the problem why not offer to help with that - orienteering clubs could be a very useful resource. Event planners and runners will notice new trails and can report them to the NCC. Then offer the services of club members at occasional work days to help with trail eradication.
Sep 19, 2020 3:55 AM # 
I have no dog in this fight, but I’m just trying to understand why some trails are illegal and some are legal? They are all arbitrary and unnatural. They also are rather fleeting. Trails will only exist (and will only be seen) if people use the forest. And why shouldn’t people use the forest? Not trying to be rhetorical or querulous—just a sincere question.
Sep 19, 2020 12:26 PM # 
I often see informal (faint, which would be mapped as indistinct) trails in the woods and wonder if they're from deer, which seem to be ubiquitous. If they are, no amount of human restriction will get rid of them.
Sep 21, 2020 4:36 AM # 
It's frustrating that when problems are perceived with the activities of individuals and groups going off trail without permission, orienteers holding permitted events in consultation with the park managers are the ones who will likely suffer most as a result of the NCC's attempt to address the problems. Probably ineffectively, since I can't imagine the NCC is going to be able to hire enough people to enforce a prohibition on individuals going off trail or convince the mushroom hunters, etc. to forbear out of the goodness of their hearts. I'm also less than optimistic about their ability to shut down existing social trails without spurring the creation of new ones and detours around any blockages they create, even given that the 100km of new trails mentioned would presumably try to satisfy the demand currently fulfilled by the social trails. Nevertheless, I added my feedback to the chorus a short while ago - perhaps fortune will smile.
Sep 21, 2020 2:45 PM # 
Social trails develop where they serve a purpose. Rather than fight them, parks should embrace to make them as minimally impactful and sustainable as possible. A great example at one local park is a one mile loop trail. A quarter mile from the official trailhead it passes within about 50 meters of a popular picnic shelter. Of course, well-used connections promptly developed from the shelter to the trail. The park has repeatedly tried to block these connections and installed ugly signage. Why not simply make one good, maintained, official connection to eliminate the incentive for people to create their own? (I would add that in this case, the area between trail and shelter is gently sloping and well drained, and largely dominated by invasive shrubs).
Sep 21, 2020 2:53 PM # 
A park I have been running in since high school has a trail that connects the park to the adjacent forest. Managers of the park and forest lands banned orienteering 40+ years ago. About a decade ago the managers decided to close the trail. People then re-opened the trail. The managers built a fence. People walked around the fence making a new trail. The managers moved fallen trees over the trail. People moved it away. Managers built a longer fence and moved more fallen trees over the trail. People built a longer trail and moved the fallen trees. Managers built an even longer and higher fence.

Soon our public spaces will be like a zoo with wildlife and nature behind fences.
Sep 21, 2020 3:22 PM # 
Back in the 1960s when I was a student in the area there was an article in the Peterborough (ON) Examiner. The city had re-landscaped some property as a city park. 'Why no trails or paths' the reporter asked. 'We are going to let the people walk where they want and when pathways appear in the grass, that is where we will construct the permanent paths', the city park planner replied. That has made sense to me ever since.
Sep 22, 2020 3:22 AM # 
The CCA in Montreal held a event in 2017 where they questioned the idea of Parks altogether: Would we be better off without parks?
Sep 22, 2020 4:39 AM # 
@gord: I believe that, albeit unofficially, colleges & universities have used the same philosophy in determining where to provide paved paths.

@hammer: You reminded me of this...

"There behind a glass
Stands a real blade of grass
Be careful as you pass
Move along! Move along!"
Sep 22, 2020 6:25 AM # 
These are called "desire paths". I found several references to colleges using them to determine where to put walkways.
Sep 22, 2020 10:08 AM # 
Shhh Hammer. Soon, an economist may discover that it would be more "effective" to put all the people in a zoo
Sep 22, 2020 12:29 PM # 
On that topic, Guy, there's also:
"They took all the trees
And put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em"
Sep 22, 2020 2:13 PM # 
Hammer your park users need to try the mtb trail building trick and just pile all those fallen trees up next to the fence so that the trail goes right over it.
Sep 23, 2020 1:26 PM # 
The dumbest thing I’ve encountered in a forest is a fence. Especially one designed to somehow preserve the natural state of the woods. Ummm, hang on a second...
Sep 23, 2020 1:57 PM # 
#The dumbest thing I’ve encountered in a forest is a fence. Especially one designed #to somehow preserve the natural state of the woods. Ummm, hang on a second...

Say for instance your forest has too many grazing animals that are eating the plants close to the ground, an unnatural state preventing endangered plants from growing, for example, white tailed deer. Your choices (arguments against in parentheses) are:

1) Shoot the excess deer and eat them (people will do this for you for free, but hunting bad and the people who do it even worse)
2) Introduce predators to kill the excess deer and eat them (but, there is a risk that the predators might harm trail runners or little kids playing in a nearby park, or even worse, they might kill some farmers cows)
3) Put up fences to keep the deer out of certain areas which means you don't have to kill any deer (fences are not natural)
4) Capture the excess deer in traps or by shooting them with tranquilizer darts and transport them far away, somewhere with less deer (you only have 2 people to do this work, no money to hire anyone else, and there are hundreds of deer too many). Alternatively, sterilize the deer when you capture them so they can live out their life without having any more babies (but, veterinarians are really expensive, and you'll need one of those each time)
5) Let the deer eat themselves out of house and home and slowly starve to death (the natural solution, but it could take years or decades an it might be too late for the plants)

Which do you do?
Sep 23, 2020 8:05 PM # 
Local to me option 1 was chosen. There were deer everywhere, and I suppose all those problems mentioned too, but I’ll admit not knowing much about the issues or that fences in the woods were a solution for them. Again, in my local example, hunting is coordinated with, and done exclusively by, local First Nations who are happy to exercise their treaty rights and feed their families. I’d do that.
Sep 24, 2020 1:55 PM # 
The problem here with number 1 is that the park managers are afraid that a non-hunter might get hurt, but far worse, that non-hunters in the woods might disturb the deer, reducing hunter success and the quality of the hunter's experience, therefore they close the park to all other users for a 5 month long hunting season (which are also the best months of the year for orienteering).

To make matters worse, the hunters like being able to hunt in the park with nobody else around, and they want the hunting access to continue, so they start being selective in their hunting, which lets more deer survive so that the hunting, once started, continues in perpetuity. My opinion, if the goal is really to thin the herd, the park managers should require every hunter to take an antlerless deer before they are allowed to take a trophy buck. And instead of a 5 month long complete closure, allow more intensive hunting for a shorter period, or have open days/weeks within the season.

For their part, it seems that the deer quickly realize that the only people in the woods are out to kill them - and they disappear into neighboring private property, only to return within days after the season ends.

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