Ontario Unveils Location of First New Operating Provincial Park in 40 Years
BRACEBRIDGE —The Ontario government announced the location of the first new all-season, full-service provincial park in over 40 years.
Located at Bigwind Lake Provincial Park near Bracebridge, the operating park will offer overnight and electrified campgrounds, backcountry camping, and a variety of four-season recreational activities, including cross-country skiing, canoeing and hiking. Once complete, the park is expected to add 250 campground campsites and up to 25 new cabins to the Ontario Parks system.
“Having grown up camping in Ontario Parks with my dad, I know just how special it is to have access to the great outdoors,” said David Piccini, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. “This will be the first new operating provincial park in almost two generations, and with the demand on our parks system on the rise, our government understands the importance of investing in Ontario Parks, which is the largest provider of outdoor recreational experiences in the province.”
Bigwind Lake Provincial Park is currently classified as a non-operating provincial park, meaning it offers low-intensity, self-guided recreational opportunities, such as hiking and nature appreciation, but does not have staff, maintained facilities or campsites.
The proposed new operating provincial park will be fully serviced and designed with the visitor experience in mind. Modern buildings and amenities such as a visitor centre, electric vehicle charging stations and electrified campsites will deliver the features that today’s campers and park-users expect. The park design will also consider environmentally sustainable elements, such as low-energy buildings, easy-to-access biking and walking routes, and wildlife-friendly planning and design, so the park remains a vital part of the natural landscape for generations to come.
“Parry Sound–Muskoka is home to some of Ontario's most popular provincial parks. Today's announcement reaffirms our government's commitment to protecting these special places,” said Graydon Smith, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and MPP, Parry Sound–Muskoka. “Residents and tourists will soon have access to another truly beautiful and quintessential provincial park. I have full confidence that Bigwind Lake Provincial Park will become a very popular destination for people to take in the splendor of our area.”
Over the coming months, the government will engage Indigenous communities, local municipalities, stakeholders and the public on the proposed new operating park. Individuals also have an opportunity to comment on the park’s design features until August 6. It is anticipated that construction on Bigwind Lake Provincial Park will begin in fall 2024.
“The Town of Bracebridge is committed to community health and well-being and we are thrilled that the new park will add new amenities, including campsites and roofed accommodations to Bigwind Lake Provincial Park, operationalizing the space for visitors year-round. Bracebridge’s vibrant community and landscape attracts visitors to experience it for themselves, and these new features will help to further strengthen our tourism and hospitality sectors, provide a space for people to connect with nature, and align with our commitment of encouraging long-term economic growth,” said Rick Maloney, Mayor, Town of Bracebridge.
Creating a new operating park is another way the Ontario government is building stronger and healthier communities, expanding recreational opportunities for families, and preserving and enhancing the province’s natural beauty.
Bigwind Lake Provincial Park is almost 5,000 acres (1,967 hectares) – more than one and a half times bigger than Arrowhead Provincial Park in neighbouring Huntsville.
The park’s ecological diversity features five named lakes, extensive upland forests, marshes and meadows.
Parks visitors are important drivers of the tourism economy. Based on estimated visitation, once the new operating park opens, park visitors will spend approximately $16 million annually in Bracebridge and surrounding communities.
Bigwind Lake Provincial Park will become Ontario’s 116th operating provincial park.
Ontario is also exploring the creation of a new urban provincial park near Uxbridge. Individuals can share their thoughts and ideas on the proposed new urban park, and what they think about urban provincial parks in general until July 19.
Visitation to Ontario’s provincial parks has grown steadily in the last decade, reaching over 12.1 million visits in 2022, making it the largest provider of outdoor recreational opportunities in the province.
Ontario manages and protects a system of 340 provincial parks and 295 conservation reserves totalling 9.8 million hectares or nine per cent of the province.