Joe Kowalski details National Park plan

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Added: Wed, 11/07/2018 - 2:50pm
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Allyson Beauregard

CAMPBELL'S BAY – Joe Kowalski, owner of Wilderness Tours in Ontario, held a public consultation October 30 at the Campbell's Bay RA Hall, to explain his vision of creating a Québec National Park in the Rocher Fendu area of Ile-du-Grand Calumet (IGC), to answer questions and garner support. The IGC council, MRC Pontiac, Renfrew County Council, Township of Whitewater Region and the Pontiac Chamber of Commerce have already unanimously supported his proposal.
Kowalski stressed his plan represents only his vision, and may change now that a special committee, including members of the MRC Pontiac, has been struck. He believes the park could attract a million visitors per year and be a ‘catalyst’
for residential development, prompting population increases and significant economic development.
Kowalski first presented the idea in 1989 in Bryson, but it did not have sufficient support. However, he continued to purchase key land needed for the project around the Rocher Fendu area on both sides of the river.
“Four decades after pioneering rafting in Rocher Fendu, there are still few year-round jobs and no significant off-season tourism,” stressed Kowalski, noting paddle sports are not the answer. With over 100 islands, Rocher Fendu can only be accessed by raft, canoe or kayak with considerable skill. “The islands remain
pristine with rapids, waterfalls, beaches and coves, all teeming with wildlife. The only obstacle to reaching its tourism potential is accessing the islands year-round ... National Park status is the only way,” he added.
The Park's design
The Rocher Fendu area needs to be conserved while enjoyed by people of all
physical capabilities, Kowalski emphasized. Bridges will provide access to the various islands from both Québec and Ontario and will be built to a snowmobile standard to tap into that market. The Park will benefit from SEPAQ investment, management, and marketing.
Initially, the only access will be from Ontario since it is the only easy access, and with the four-lane highway a short drive from the Park it will help attract the fourth largest market in North America - the GTA/ Golden Horseshoe.
“The most difficult part of any business in getting business. Easy access from Ontario is key to attracting the huge bus tour market,” said Kowalski, who noted revenue will eventually enable road building and improvement in IGC, resulting in a more even visitation pattern from both provinces.  
Costs and benefits
The Park is estimated to cost about $5 million to establish trails, toilets,
walkways, signage and seven bridges, financed by sponsorships, contributions, concessions, and fundraising. “If money isn't available, I'm confident we can find a way to raise it,” claimed Kowalski, who said access fees will cover operating costs. SEPAQ, the operator of Québec's parks, charges $8.60 per day access fee for adults; 100,000 visitors would generate $860,000 in annual revenue while one million would equate to $8.6 million.
Both provinces will benefit equally, stressed Kowalski, who promised Wilderness Tours (WT) would not develop its Ontario properties. “WT warrants maximum development on IGC, either by developing our own land or making it available
to developers. There will be no new development on WT's land in Ontario,” he
elaborated. 
According to Kowalski, IGC and the MRC Pontiac will each receive a share of
parking revenues from both sides of the river as well as “Pass Plus” sales, a parking and entry combination.
WT will also receive a share, as will SEPAQ.
“The MRC Pontiac, Renfrew County, IGC and Whitewater Region all have to work together to make this happen,” he said.
Public input
Irene Nadeau, former IGC mayor, said she is happy to see a project to develop part of the Pontiac's “unexplored paradises” moving forward, stating there will be nothing but gain.
Paul Sevcik from Equinox Adventures, a Toronto rafting company that used to operate in the Pontiac, reiterated how summer tourism is “not enough to keep people here” and that establishing a National Park will allow people of all capabilities to view the area, which he said is unlike anything else in
the world.
Dr. John Wooton warned that creating a park usually involves some expropriation. “It may require some compromises down the road,” he added.     
One of the criticisms of the project is not the park, but its bridges; some think they shouldn't connect the area with Ontario, while some paddlers do not want them destroying the natural scenery of the area and increasing access to it. “Everyone has the right to access nature,” emphasized Kowalski. “The bridges
won't interfere with my paddling,” noted Sevcik.
One attendee asked if environmental impact studies have been done. Kim Lesage, an MRC Pontiac engineer and member of the special committee, responded
that there have been no environmental studies completed because the project is only in the initial phases, but they will certainly be done in the future.
The next step is for the committee to meet with Pontiac MNA André Fortin and MP Will Amos to continue the process of creating the Park.