Bigwind Lake announced as Ontario’s first new operating provincial park in 40 years

Aerial view of Bigwind Lake and the surrounding trees Photo by the Province of Ontario

The government of Ontario has announced that Bigwind Lake will be its first new operating provincial park in 40 years.

The finished development for the 5,000-acre Bigwind Lake Provincial Park will include more than 250 campsites, 25 cabins, a visitor centre, and electric vehicle charging stations. It will also improve existing trails to better accommodate seasonal activities, such as cross-country skiing and mountain biking.

Bracebridge mayor Rick Maloney says people have been “passively” using the area as a provincial park for decades. The new investment will incorporate a guided tour to improve the experience for out-of-town visitors, and the government will install more accessibility and safety features. 

“There’s currently no washrooms, no official trail guidance, no signage. Now that there will be those amenities…it’s really going to be a park that’s accessible to a lot more people,” he says.

Mayor Maloney says locals will also benefit: visitors will bring more attention to local businesses in the surrounding communities, and construction, which starts in the fall of 2024, will rely on local contractors and suppliers.

Since Bigwind Lake Provincial Park is also 20 minutes closer to Bracebridge than Arrowhead Provincial Park, outdoor experiences will become more accessible to locals.

“It’s an opportunity for Bracebridge to open its doors to folks that will enjoy not just the park, but also enjoy a day trip into Bracebridge,” Mayor Maloney says. “Our community will benefit having a first class park right on its doorstep.”

David Piccini, the Minister of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks, says demand for public parks in Ontario jumped more than 130 per cent during the pandemic. They decided on Bigwind Lake Provincial Park because it’s “within striking distance of the GTA,” which is where they see the province’s biggest demand.

“Our parks within two to three hours of the GTA are the parks that are usually at full occupancy,” he says.

The new developments will also help protect the park’s biodiversity, including the endangered Blanding’s turtle. Park staff will teach park-goers about the turtle and its habitat before helping them do turtle releases at nesting sites scattered across the park.

“It’s equipping the next generation with an appreciation for nature and an understanding of those species that are endangered,” says Piccini.

The needs of park-goers have changed drastically over the last 40 years. Piccini says the provincial government has opened an online survey for Ontario residents to suggest features that should be added to the park. He says has gotten an “incredible response” from surrounding communities, and it has helped start conversations with locals who aren’t sure if the developments are necessary.

The Ontario government is currently consulting nearby Indigenous communities, and Piccini says they will continue to do so as the project progresses. He expects construction to be completed in 2026.

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