Ontario’s newest ‘urban’ park to open in Uxbridge July 1

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Published June 14, 2024 at 2:15 pm

Uxbridge Urban Park

Ontario’s newest – albeit still unfinished and just a little bit different – provincial park will open to the public July 1, with all fees waived for the Canada Day unveiling of the Uxbridge Urban Park.

The Province has been working on the vision of the urban oasis for more than a year, with the park included in the 2023 provincial budget, with then Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister David Piccini making the announcement on Earth Day last year.

The ministry has been conducting site assessments and evaluations on the feasibility of the urban provincial park in Uxbridge since then, with Indigenous communities, the public, local stakeholders, partners and environmental organizations all called in to help inform the final design of the park, which may be as large as 1,315 acres when it’s complete.

What makes the Uxbridge Urban Park different is the design. When you imagine the typical provincial park, you think of a single, connected natural area. It might follow a river or be a central block of forest, but it’s all one big piece.

The new park in Uxbridge, however, is made up of individual parcels of provincially owned lands in the Uxbridge area. And while they’re not all connected today, it’s possible they might be linked by other lands, recreational areas, and trail systems in the future, allowing users to hike or bike all the way from Lake Ontario to Uxbridge and beyond.

The park, which sits on the Oak Ridges Moraine, would provide opportunities for users to enjoy the area’s natural beauty, including hiking and birdwatching, while strengthening the long-term protection and health of local wildlife.

“The Uxbridge Urban Provincial Park is an incredibly exciting addition to our community,” said Uxbridge Mayor Dave Barton, who thanked the Province – citing Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, who also happens to be the Pickering-Uxbridge MPP – for its efforts “to expand conservation protections and add assets to our local and regional trail network.”

“I can’t wait to see the no trespassing signs removed and these lands open and ready to enjoy by the people of Ontario. This is an enormous opportunity for economic activity in Uxbridge.”

Right now there are no facilities or services and just limited parking at the park entrance but users can take advantage of existing trails free of charge.

About $19 million has been spent on the project so far and provincial officials say that a park management plan will be released to the public later this year with the public invited to have their say on the project this fall.

The bulk of the proposed park will be the provincially owned land north-east of the Rouge National Urban Park, which straddles the border of Toronto, Pickering and Uxbridge, but the entire study area – more than 27,000 in size – also includes the Durham Regional Forest, a nearly 1,500-acre mixed wood and conifer forest area owned by the Region and a possible 300-acre plot of land owned by Uxbridge Township.

“The creation of Uxbridge Urban Provincial Park is built on a legacy of conservation, natural, and cultural heritage protection,” Ontario Parks said in a news release in announcing the ‘soft’ opening of the park. “We aim to provide recreational opportunities, connect communities, and benefit people from local communities and across Ontario.”

The development of the urban park is part of a bigger plan to build provincial parks closer to where people live.

“With 83 per cent of Ontario’s growing population located in urban centres, it’s imperative that we build more provincial parks closer to home,” Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister Andrea Khanjin said. “The establishment of the Uxbridge Urban Provincial Park marks a significant step in our government’s commitment to expand our park system.”

Uxbridge is nicknamed the ‘Trail Capital of Canada,’ featuring more than 220 kilometres of managed trails that wind through forest, wetlands, meadows and historic villages and the park would provide plenty of opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors and what the township has to offer. Areas regulated as provincial parks can also contribute to scientific research and environmental monitoring.

“These lands are situated on an ecologically important and gorgeous section of the Oak Ridges Moraine (and) are near major urban centres in the GTA and perfect for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing,” Barton said last year. “I am so proud to be part of the team acting to protect and conserve this unique habitat and greenspace and I am excited for the recreation and tourism benefits this brings to the Township.”

The province has been working with Uxbridge Township, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Schad Foundation, the Region of Durham and Green Durham Association to identify the “full recreational and protection potential” of an urban provincial park in the area throughout the study process.

“Opening a new provincial park in Uxbridge would give families and people in the community new ways to enjoy the great outdoors all year around,” said Bethlenfalvy. “A strong Ontario includes a strong provincial park system, made up of the most beautiful and scenic parts of the province that will be enjoyed for many generations to come.”

The Ontario Government manages 340 provincial parks and 295 conservation reserves representing over eight per cent of the province’s land and waters. Visitation to Ontario’s provincial parks has grown steadily in the last decade, cresting 12 million visits in 2022.

Uxbridge Mayor Dave Barton shares a laugh with Durham Chair John Henry (left), Ontario Finance Minister (and local MPP) Peter Bethlenfalvy and then Parks Minister Dave Piccini at an Uxbridge Urban Park announcement in 2023

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