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Tuesday April 24, 2018, 4:16 am

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Funding to help park reach new 'heights'
By Bryan Jessop

Thanks to a multi-million dollar investment from Parks Canada, Point Pelee visitors won’t require feathers and wings for a bird’s eye view of the nation’s southern tip.

A combined sum of $5.5 million has been earmarked for two major upcoming projects at Point Pelee National Park, which has already undergone a lengthy list of upgrades including a refurbished Visitor Centre, a breakwall to protect beach property from erosion and the ongoing Savannah habitat restoration program. Through federal infrastructure program funding, the Marsh Boardwalk and its observation tower will be treated to renovations valued at $4 million. The two major components of the project will include replacing the supports for the boardwalk’s stationary half and removing the tower’s wooden stairs in favour of steel replacements.

The ‘floating’ half of the boardwalk will remain untouched, but at an age of more than 50 years, the stationary or ‘docked’ 500 metre section will receive a new metal substructure. 

“The project will be very low impact, which is nice,” explained Parks Canada project coordinator Dan Dufour. “There’ll be no need to bring any heavy machinery in there. Even when the project is going on, it shouldn’t impact access for visitors too much.”

Dufour noted that the $5.5 million improvements will essentially be a summertime project that begins at the end of May. While construction of the boardwalk’s new substructure is taking place, visitors will walk the ‘floating’ section’s half kilometre and back rather than the entire walkway’s one kilometre loop. Once that area’s section of the project is complete, the boardwalk’s tower will sit upon an island linked to the parking lot area by a gravel causeway.

“It’ll be a nice edition that’s better for the ecology of the marsh,” Dufour explained while also noting that the boardwalk’s entire surface will still be wood once the improvements are done.

Visitors to the marsh will be able to park in the nearby Northwest Beach lot and will still be able to rent canoes from Friends of Point Pelee during the construction process.

Further south, plans are in the works to build a new 24-metre/80-foot tall observation tower west of the shuttle service’s drop off area. The tower will feature three platforms and be situated about 500 metres from the tip. Reaching upwards two-and-a-half times higher than the Marsh Boardwalk’s tower, the new structure will allow guests to reach the same altitude that most hawks prefer to fly at when arriving at the park.

“People have been aware of erosion problems at the tip for quite some time,” explained Dufour. “Some will recall that there used to be a deck with a bench and a telescope out there, but with loose land, we haven’t been able to offer that experience in recent times. Soon, people will be able to experience Canada’s most southern point in a very exciting way.”

Before specific plans for the new tower were in place, Parks Canada staff used a portable skylift device to assess the views from its future location at different heights. It was decided that 24 metres/80 feet was ideal, as that particular elevation will allow guests to look over the region’s 60-foot tall hackberry trees.

“When you turn north, you get the feeling that you’re at the beginning of Canada,” said Dufour. “You’ll see what migrating birds see.”

From the top, visitors will also be able to see Wheatley, urban Leamington and to the south, the northern shore of Pelee Island. For those who cannot access the tower, it’s top will include a camera that can be remotely controlled from the base. It is not yet known if the camera will be hooked up to a webcam. The tower will be made entirely of steel instead of wood, which Dufour noted will make the project more affordable and allow for a greater degree of structural stability. Guests will still be able to access the tip by foot and the shuttle service to the southernmost point will continue as usual while construction is ongoing. 

Construction is expected to wrap up this summer, from which point shuttle service hours could be extended. Workers will begin building the new tower shortly after this year’s Festival of Birds is completed.

 

 

 

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