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Work continues for new full-service, operating provincial park in Bracebridge

There has been “overwhelming support” for the project that could see Bracebridge’s Bigwind Lake Provincial Park turned into a full-service operation. 

Laura Bjorgan, senior manager of protected areas with Ontario Parks, says since the project was announced in June 2023, they’ve received over 6,000 mostly positive comments about what’s proposed. 

Bigwind Lake Provincial Park is a 4,860-acre park just outside of Bracebridge but is considered “non-operating” which, according to Ontario’s website, means it only offers “low-intensity, self-guided recreational opportunities such as nature appreciation and paddling” and isn’t staffed nor does it have maintained facilities. 

Bjorgan explains they’re currently in the design phase of the project, which allows for public consultation. She says every comment will be considered before work moves forward. 

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According to Ontario’s website, it’s currently proposed that 25 roofed accommodations, up to 25 backcountry campsites, a visitor centre, a recreational trail system, and other facilities like comfort stations be created. The various park policies will also be updated to “protect important natural and cultural values, including species at risk and their habitats.” 

Bjorgan says they’re not attaching a timeline to the proposal. She says dates have been floated, including at the announcement last year. “At that time, we didn’t quite grasp the full understanding of the feedback and input and interest in this project,” she continues. 

A public survey seeking feedback on the project closed over the weekend. However, Bjorgan says anyone who wants to have their say about what’s proposed should email [email protected]. 

Bjorgan explains the next steps for the project will include a multitude of assessments looking into the terrain and species in the park. She says that will help them shape what they can or can’t build and where the most suitable places for the infrastructure like campsites and service centres are. 

Once that’s done, she says it will be part of the final plan that will be presented to the provincial government for approval. 

Bjoran says this is a chance for them to “start fresh” by creating Ontario’s first new operating park in four decades “and build something that’s forward-looking, that’s innovative, that’s inclusive, and strongly considers both environment considerations in how we build and different types in recreational opportunities we provide.” 

Charlotte Beckett, director of growth and partnerships with Ontario Parks, explains how what’s proposed is like what’s offered currently at Algonquin Park. Notably, she says Bigwind Lake will be staffed.  

“We’ve heard from a lot of people, a lot of our visitors, that this is something they’re looking for. They’re looking for more opportunities to get out into nature,” she says. 

Beckett says Cottage Country is a popular tourist spot, so it makes sense to look at creating more opportunities to explore it. However, she says Ontario Parks’ mandate of protecting the natural environment will be their priority throughout the process. 

“We’re very well aware of the terrain, we’re well aware of the species that are within the park, the sensitive ecology within the park,” she continues. 

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