---Boucher Forest Foundation inaugurates long-awaited park
Concluding its annual celebration of ecology and environmental awareness in style, the Boucher Forest Foundation (FFB) recently hosted a literally ground breaking ceremony to officially inaugurate its long-awaited park development project. Gathering a crowd of around 30 elected officials, political candidates, and community leaders under sunny blue skies for a press conference on the mid-morning of September 9, FFB representatives took advantage to present the upcoming entrance of the park, and express what it meant to finally get such a significant environmental undertaking going.
Before putting on hardhats and digging shovels in the ground, alongside the FFB’s President Christina Richard, and Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, the foundation’s Director General Marion Jean opened the event by reminding people how fortunate it was to be part of such a momentous occasion for the forest, Aylmer, and all of Gatineau.
Witnessing the culmination of decades of environmental activism, lobbying, and hard work, Richard also said it was a historic day for the foundation and the entire community, and that the new Boucher Forest Park should provide invaluable benefits in the near and long-term future. She reminded that the project wouldn’t have been possible without a handful of citizens who started fighting to protect the forest from being destroyed for infrastructural development around 20 years ago – back when climate change was not a top-of-mind topic like it is today – and eventually established the FFB in 2007. The Aylmer Bulletin placed the Boucher Forest front and center as early as 2002.
From then, the forest and the foundation’s popularity grew, attracting more and more people to participate in the FFB’s conservation initiatives as years went on, Richard said, until 2017, when it officially formed a partnership with the city to spearhead the creation of a natural park in the Boucher Forest. An FFB press release from September 9, said the Boucher Forest Park - expected to become the second largest park in Gatineau - should officially open sometime in 2022. Planned in partnership with the city, the project foresees installing multipurpose wooden trails, boardwalks and footbridges throughout municipally-owned parts of the forest, with the intention of making the area more accessible while enhancing measures to ultimately preserve its natural wealth and protect fragile ecosystems. “It’s so everyone can take full advantage of this previous forest,” Richard said, noting that the entirety of the forest includes around 700 acres and that the city owns around 55 per cent of it.
Pedneaud-Jobin clarified that approximately 80 per cent of the forest is protected, in one way or another, calling it phenomenal progress compared to years ago. The 400-acre Park will be managed by the FFB, which also spearheaded the development project after initiating the idea to the city. The FFB says the first phase of construction will go on until December, and that the progress of the following three phases will be divided and based on available funding. When it opens, the Park plans to include various types of environment-educationally-focused programming, including day camps.
To prepare the park’s development project, Richard said the FFB conducted a number of bio blitzes to gather inventory of species, ecological character studies to determine its environmental value, a couple of market studies, a number of public consultations, a documentary and more than 100 educational and ecological activities, and much more. She added that the foundation also devised a development plan, a directorial plan, and a conservation plan to ensure the project is planned as optimally as possible.
Already regarded as a popular outdoor destination among locals, the mayor said the Boucher Forest Park could become a provincially-celebrated natural haven, and a nearby urban forest roughly comparable to Central Park in New York City. “It’s good for Gatineau,” Pedneaud-Jobin said, stating that Gatineau has the highest proportion of greenspace among large cities in the province, and that the Boucher Forest is even larger than Parc Mont-Royal in Montreal. “But it’s also an audacious choice when you look at other cities … in 50 years, this will be extremely precious.”
Dubbing the Boucher Forest as Gatineau’s “left lung”, an important role player in Gatineau Park, and the last true forest left in Aylmer, Richard says its preservation is imperative to resisting climate change, supplying the equivalent of around $6 million per year in ecological goods and services. The Forest accounts for nearly 1,200 species, including several types of mature trees and 22 vulnerable species. Regarding the idea of potentially protecting the entirety of the forest, Richard told the Aylmer Bulletin that full-protection is what they’re always fought and will continue to do.
While calling it a complicated file, especially due to the continually rising value of properties the city desires to purchase in the Boucher Forest, she said the foundation is demanding the city to put forward a 10-year acquisition plan to acquire multi-functional and recreationally-zoned properties remaining in the forest. “It’s a lot of money,” Richard said, stating that the FFB and the city are collaborating with federal government officials to find financing solutions. “I know we cost a lot in square footage … but it really helps in the fight against climate change.”
The mayor responded that the city is trying to find ways to become more financially flexible to be able to dedicate significant funds to purchase green space for preservation purposes.