Peter North of North Design Office Inc. presented the most recent master plan for Herlihey Park a seven-acre space located on the former site of the Wilberforce Veneer and Lumber Company to Highlands East council and a small crowd of residents at a special meeting held March 26./SUE TIFFIN Staff

Herlihey Park designed to become heart of town 

By Sue Tiffin

A crowd came to the unveiling of the latest design of the proposed Herlihey Park on March 26 gathering around landscape architect Peter North at the Lloyd Watson Centre to hear him present on how resident feedback from last August’s public meeting had been incorporated into the project.

Plans for the park include shoreline and meadow walking trails a beach and swim area a central lawn a multi-use picnic pavilion a playground and a boat dock.

“The intention of this plan is to create a vibrant lakefront park with distinctive activities and unique water-oriented programming” reads North’s master plan. “Herlihey Park will be the defining recreational amenity of Wilberforce’s waterfront through a lively mix of programs activities and healthy ecologies.”

The land bordered by Wilberforce’s downtown area along Loop Road and Dark (formerly Pusey) Lake was donated to the township by the Marcus family. Carol Marcus is the daughter of Beatrice and Harold Herlihey who was a well-known local community member municipal politician and operated the Wilberforce Veneer and Lumber Company on the site.

The public has expressed an interest in preserving the history of the site honouring the former presence of the lumber company as well as the Irondale Bancroft and Ottawa Railway.

“Herlihey Park is a seven-acre shoreline park in the heart of your town and has phenomenal potential to be a really incredible waterfront park” said North of North Design Office Inc. “What’s important to us is that we connect it to the history of the site.”

Taking in the public feedback on interest in a larger beach including room for sports facilities for activities like volleyball and horseshoes and a smaller parking lot than the original design North reviewed changes to the site design.

The park will now have a beach double the size than original plans and a smaller parking lot that has easy access to the recreation area for people carrying bags and equipment. North said passive recreation opportunities including fishing canoeing and waterfront activities were important and “high high on the list” according to public feedback as well as an area for volleyball horseshoes a play area for kids potential for skating and room for snowmobilers and ATV users that use the site.

Not wanting to infringe on the fairgrounds space Herlihey Park is designed with a central park area for additional events – lakeside fireworks and a movie night. “Special events to augment what’s happening with the other park in town” said North. “Hopefully they could work together and be compatible.”

He said the forest surrounding the town stands out.

“We started to think of this as the potential for not a wildlife sanctuary but at least something where the natural processes guide the design” he said. He said his team was interested in nurturing passive recreation including birding wildlife sightings and geocaching.

North’s design “recognizes the environmental significance of a natural shoreline” and also recognizes critical assets of Dark Lake including lake trout.

“Opportunities to protect these resources have been identified” he said.

Additionally a picnic pavilion would be a place to facilitate gatherings and is the only building recommended although an existing pump house would stay standing and could be wrapped in historic photos of the site’s past.

“The ultimate goal is to create a vast fully accessible landscape that is defined by a varied collection of places for recreation exploration healthy ecologies and refuge” reads North’s report.

North having visited the site numerous times said he can imagine residents and visitors stopping at Agnew’s General Store to get an ice cream entering the park and walking along the beach and shoreline trails for a progression “starting with the downtown strip and making this a really integral part of the downtown.”

The park is planned to be built in four phases at an estimated cost of approximately $100000 per year.

Phase one would include site demolition and work on the waterfront trail and access to beach and parking to formalize access to the park. Phase two would include work on a promenade and events lawn.

“It’s important to get the events lawn and beach there if that’s the destination” said North.

Phase three would plan for the picnic pavilion and washroom facility seating and benches play equipment that North noted didn’t have to be “off the shelf” and volleyball nets and horseshoe areas. Phase four would include the lookout deck and potential for boat access.

The public gathered generally approved of the plan but noted the importance of year-round access to trails putting priority on a washroom facility and possibly erecting a statue honouring the loggers who used the site. Flo Taylor who was secretary at the company in the 1950s as well as Hilda Clark raised interest in wanting history better preserved at the site for those who would walk through it and not know its past.

“I don’t see as a stranger to the area if I walk through this place that it’s going to tell me anything about the lumber industry” said Clark. “Lumbering and veneering was the heart of this town this whole area.

To me that would be the missing thing. I know you have to do it in stages and it costs money but nothing is going to pop out at me unless there are some signs that explain: this is where the veneer factory was this is where the original mill was this is where the jack ladder was that the kids used to run up and down…”

North discussed incorporating images throughout the park showcasing photos “that start to tell the story” and said he would love to develop that in a strong way.

Approvals need to be obtained by the MNRF but Shannon Hunter CAO/treasurer told the Echo “breaking ground will commence in the areas that don’t require permits as soon as weather and property conditions permit.”