By Chris Drost
At the Nov. 23 meeting of the Highlands East council, CAO/treasurer Shannon Hunter shared the good news that the period of studies and consultations have been concluded for the development of Herlihey Park in downtown Wilberforce. These included an Indigenous consultation with Curve Lake, an environmental assessment and a Phase Two archaeological assessment.
“We should be able to conclude the consultations and proceed with the trails and parking lots in 2022,” said Hunter. She is just waiting for the final reports but said, “everything looks promising.” Until those reports are received, they won’t know for sure if any changes are required but it appears that they will be able to move ahead. The financial resources are in place, including a $100,000 grant received for the project.
The seven-acre property was the location of the former Wilberforce Veneer and Lumber Company. It was donated to the municipality on behalf of Carol and Karl Marcus, long-time residents and in honour and memory of their parents Beatrice and Harold Herlihey.
The conceptual design phase of the project was carried out by North Design Office Inc., an internationally award-winning company out of Toronto that, according to its website, “is committed to creating thoughtfully designed spaces to generate vibrant and resilient communities and environments.” North Design Office assembled background history for the property, assessed the natural environment and consulted the public before finally creating a master plan for the park. Council accepted this plan on March 16, 2019.
North Design Office’s conceptual design report states that “one of the priorities in planning a new park at this site is recognizing the former presence of industry along the water’s edge: the Wilberforce Veneer and Lumber Company and the Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa (IB&O) Railway. Any design efforts will attempt to preserve the elements and character that make this site truly unique. 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.”
One of the requests expressed by the public during the community consultations is that the history of the property be captured. An existing pump house is expected to showcase the history of the former veneer mill and the IB&O railway that were once an integral part of the community.
The plan is to complete the work at Herlihey Park in four stages. The first stage, expected to begin in 2022, is the creation of the walking trails and parking lots.
The new park, between Loop Road and Schofield Road, will include shoreline walking trails, meadow walking trails, a restored forested area, beach and swimming area on Dark Lake, sports area with amenities such as a beach volleyball court, multi-use picnic pavilion, public washrooms, central lawn for community events and eventually, a boat dock. Winter use is expected to include skating on Dark Lake. There will be entrances to the park off Loop Road and Schofield Road with parking areas adjacent to each. The walking trails will be accessible so they can be enjoyed by everyone.
An additional element of the park’s location on Dark Lake is that it is a cold-water lake with the capacity for lake trout. This has been taken into consideration as a key asset of the park and efforts to protect these resources have been addressed in the plan.
“It has been a long time coming but I am extremely pleased with it moving forward. We are excited but we were put behind the eight ball with COVID in there,” said Mayor Dave Burton. Herlihey Park will bring people into the community and will be a place for both locals and visitors to go and relax, according to Burton. “I think we are going to have something very special there,” he said.
While finances and resources will impact timing of the next steps, Hunter confirms that all the funding is in place for the project.