I participated in the second seasonal meeting of Gatineau Park outdoor infrastructure users on the evening of Wednesday, February 11th, 2015. The attendees were composed of representatives of most of the major winter outdoor sport clubs of the area, which include cross-country skiing of course, but also snow-shoeing, backcountry and fat-biking (via the OMBA (Ottawa Mountain Bike Association)). There was also a representative from the volunteer ski patrol and of course, Renée Bellehumeur and Steve McLaughlin, representing Gatineau Park Administration. The meeting was lead by a professional facilitator. As with the previous meeting, the atmosphere was very collegial and positive, contrary to the rumours I had heard going into my first interaction in the forum. Most of you will know or remember past periods where heated disputes took place between various stakeholders. Happily, it seems that the dust has subsided and that the past issues have been resolved. There were six topics on the agenda that night:
1. The new, online tracking system for grooming
2. Trail review
4. "Dead" or "seasonal transition" periods
5. Fat biking
1. Online Tracking System What is it? A real-time tracking system that indicates to skiers where groomers have passed. The feedback Gatineau Park has to date received is mostly positive. Steve says that the next step will be to distinguish between snowmobiles and pisten bullies, and to indicate which trails are closed. There was a discussion as to what and how much detail should be included in the information. Some attendees felt that the trail information should be far more detailed, indicating among others, snow depth, quality, whether the track is man made or machine made, etc. The consensus was that this would be rather onerous to undertake, and that subjective assessments of trail conditions, namely the "recommended" versus "not-recommended" indications, are problematic because of their subjectivity. Consequently, Renée indicated that the most agreeable format is simply to indicate whether the trail has been groomed or not within the last 24 hours. This after all, is what most skiers wish to know. If it isn't or hasn't been groomed, the conditions probably aren't very good! This is also where XC Ottawa shines. You will all be happy to know that the elite XC-ski community (still) turns to US for detailed trail condition reports. Takes one to know one - good job everyone!
2. Trail review This refers to reviewing the current network of trails, winter and summer, to assess whether some should be closed, other new ones opened, and or whether their use should be changed. The general impression is that there is openness to change in the network, though this is more the domain of environmental assessors and the subject matter of a different forum for this specific purpose. The crux of the matter is that we all have an impact on the natural environment of GP, and have to manage it to avoid erosion and hurting endangered plant and animal species, which includes avoiding falling afoul of environmental legislation for that purpose. Often, well-meaning trail users from various groups (hikers, bikers, etc) set up bridges and ramps to go over wet areas, without realizing that they are trampling on an endangered species of plant, for example (trail 34). There have been success stories, such as the Lusk escarpments for climbing, with rotating closures. The next update on this topic will follow after the public consultation on trail use and management in the spring. In the summer, biology students - already hired - will conduct environmental impact assessments on the trail network. Please in the meantime offer your suggestions on which cross-country ski trails that we under-use that could be given up for say, snowshoeing or fat-biking. In exchange, there may be more XC trails opened elsewhere.
3. Tarification (of snowshoeing and of use in general) The discussion was limited to two specific points today, as the general idea of tariffing vehicles entering the park and general use fees are always in the background. The first point was on the tarification of snowshoeing, which has to date been successful - 860 season passes sold, correlated with an increase in XC-ski passes. Possible symbiosis? Monitoring has been an issue because of the early season drought and the resulting dearth in employees, who all found other jobs! The second point was the indication by Skinouk that they would bring a formal request that the NCC consider increasing the age threshold for free skiing to 18, in an effort to render skiing more accessible to youth. The response from Gatineau Park Admin was that it would be bit difficult to justify that the NCC, rather than the clubs, for example, absorb the cost. An alternative suggestion was sweetening the family pass deals, which currently give a price for a family of up to 2 adults and 3 youth. Comments? Personally - I'm attached in principle to the idea of socializing access to the outdoor sports (and post-secondary education) to youth, but I'm not sure that it is feasible economically.
4. "Dead" or "Seasonal transition" periods This refers to the periods at the beginning and the end of the winter season, where the trails are not quite set for one mode or the other, however the "official season" is on and the trails are restricted to one use. This usually comes up in the spring, where the trails are still skiable and/or groomed, but more and more people just want to go for a walk (... so they have to pick ski trails...). Staff at GP Admin are in a pinch, as they cannot officially say to go on the restricted trail, but have nowhere else to send them. Thoughts? There was a comment that set dates are preferable as they avoid the need to make on the spot decisions, which always result in disputes out on the trail. Particularly irritating for us skiers in December, when there is literally half an inch of snow on the parkway, which suddenly attracts swaths of walkers... A sage comment came from OMBA members - promote etiquette. For fat bikers, the rule is that if you're sinking in more than an inch, go home. Sounds like calling "track" for the ski trail.
5. Fat Biking OMBA members made a short presentation on how the field is exploding with popularity. Events and amateurs are multiplying exponentially. The best is the general conservationist philosophy of OMBA - respect, conserve and cooperate. An absolute model for all of us. Hey, early season training idea: how about intervals or LSD on fat bikes? Beats suddenly trying to run 3 hrs...
6. Grooming First off, I believe I can repeat the information that DEMSIS HAS BEEN AWARDED THE GROOMING CONTRACT FOR GATINEAU PARK for another 5 years. Look forward to brand new equipment with better turning radii and more precise tracks! At the moment, the consensus is that the grooming is excellent. Thoughts? Comments? Possible improvements, notwithstanding: On some trails, such as 50, 52 and 36 there were requests to put the two classic tracks closer together to avoid hitting soft spots and branches on the sides. There was also a request to widen, groom earlier and more often trails like Burma. All of this of course depends first on snow depth, but the kick is that if a trail isn't groomed, it is not for lack of service, it is because grooming in those conditions will actually damage the equipment and increase the risk of spills. So in marginal conditions, we must be patient. That's all for now - stay tuned for the springtime, following the public consultation on trail use.
Interesting Reading. . .