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Ontario Parks works with user groups to protect Niagara Escarpment parkland

In Council Watch
Apr 6th, 2018
Benjamin Dasti of Ontario Parks Wasaga Beach - Metroland photo

Benjamin Dasti of Ontario Parks Wasaga Beach office – Ian Adams/Metroland photo

Pretty River Provincial Park is a magnet for mountain bikers, an activity that’s putting pressure on the park

by Ian Adams Wasaga Sun

It features one of the highest points on the Niagara Escarpment, and more than 400 vascular plant species — including the Hart’s-tongue fern, a species of ‘special concern’ in Ontario.

Pretty River Provincial Park is also home to Three Stage, a trail system that’s a magnet for mountain bikers, and an activity that’s putting pressure on the 1,020-hectare park on the Niagara Escarpment which straddles Clearview Township and The Town of The Blue Mountains.

Ontario Parks has begun engaging with the park’s users, starting with mountain bikers, to determine how to better manage the tract. A meeting was held in February, and assistant park superintendent Benjamin Dasti said other user groups will be involved in the coming months.

“Ontario’s provincial parks are intended for the public as a whole,” Dasti said. “Ultimately the goal is to potentially create a ‘friends’ group … to become stewards of the park and work with Ontario Parks.”

It’s been more than 30 years since the first mountain bike trails were first cut through the park, which became crown land in 1985. While there is an interim management statement that guides how the park is managed, it is also essentially an ‘unoperated’ park.

“It poses certain challenges with it being off the beaten track, and being a popular park at the same time,” Dasti said. “The purpose of doing these meetings is to engage with those user groups, and see if we can all get a better handle on how we want to utilize the property.”

Mountain biking is by far the most popular activity in the park, and it has one of the greatest impacts, said Dasti, as trail creation can potentially have an impact on the park’s ecologically-sensitive areas.

Mountain biker Steve Varga said he agrees with that assessment. Varga is one of several enthusiasts who have constructed trails in the park over the years, and said the meeting was “interesting and informative.

“My take on it was (the park) is not a particularly unique forest, but rather that all natural forests have certain sensitives that need to be respected. They would like to educate us on how to address these sensitives and that of course is a worthwhile effort,” he said.

Varga also acknowledged the park needs a form of management, and is keen to participate in an organization that could help manage the park under Ontario Parks’ direction.

“We are happy to play a positive role in that process. Hopefully in the long run that will lead to a win-win for all interest groups,” he said.

Dasti emphasized Ontario Parks is not looking to limit access to the park, which also includes a section of the Bruce Trail, and an Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs managed trail.

“We’re not in the market of limiting business; parks are for all Ontario residents to use,” he said. “We just want to have a better understanding ourselves, and the public to have an understanding — and an onus, on ourselves and the public — to utilize the property better. I think people see it as a place to play, but ecologically it’s a very unique property.”

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