Enhancements to the Rouge Beach and Marsh Area of Rouge National Urban Park
Public engagement for the Rouge Beach Improvements Project is currently underway and has been extended until May 1, 2021. This project will enhance and further protect the natural and cultural integrity of the area and foster meaningful connections to its beauty and rich history. The initiative will:
- mitigate the impacts of climate change, flooding and erosion;
- improve visitor safety, inclusivity, stewardship and connectivity for all visitors and residents;
- restore ecosystems and improve ecological integrity; and
- respect the rights of neighbouring ravine property owners and residential communities.
Parks Canada is working with the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, the Friends of Rouge National Urban Park, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle and many other organizations, community groups and partners on this important project.
A key goal of the project is to help maintain community access to this unique waterfront environment. Parks Canada will achieve this by saving, refurbishing, restoring and flood-proofing park infrastructure and landscapes currently at risk due to extreme flooding events and erosion at this location, including safeguarding the main beach access area at Lawrence Avenue and Rouge Hills Drive.
The project will also formalize a 2.5-kilometre trail connection and add new boardwalk components from the beach to the Mast Trail area of the park to help improve visitor safety and in-park connections. Formalizing this trail will help improve community connections, minimize and reduce trampling on sensitive vegetation, and reverse the present situation where pedestrians currently wishing to connect from the beach to the Mast Trail must leave the park and negotiate crossing two dangerous Highway 401 on-ramps without the aid of a sidewalk or signalized crossing.
A defining feature of the Rouge Beach Improvements Project will be enhancements to the park’s ecological integrity through significant inland marsh and aquatic habitat restoration, removal of invasive species, creation of habitat for species-at-risk, planting of thousands of trees and shrubs, the addition of wildlife crossings and passages and by limiting and reducing the ecological footprint of the marsh area.
Other planned improvements include upgrades to the day use areas at both the beach and at the Mast Trail trailhead, including a new washroom facility and additional parking at the Mast Trail and a refurbished washroom at the beach.
This project was introduced to the public in 2012 when the initiative to create Rouge National Urban Park was launched, as well as at public meetings throughout the fall of 2014 and the fall of 2016, and via the Rouge National Urban Park Management Plan released in 2019.
The management plan encompassed feedback from over 20,000 Canadians and more than 200 organizations. The latest phase of public engagement has focused on more detailed conceptual designs and has been underway since February 2020, with dozens of community meetings, in-person walks, virtual charrettes and design workshops completed to date. Parks Canada has extended the public engagement and commenting period for this project to May 2021 to facilitate additional community feedback and co-design. In addition to significant community engagement and co-design, Parks Canada has committed to completing a detailed impact analysis – the highest standard of federal environmental impact analysis in the country – for this project.
For more information on this project, and to provide feedback or request a meeting with a member of our project team, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In light of COVID-19, the deadline for public feedback has been extended by 6 months to May 1, 2021.
Read what others are saying about the Rouge Beach Improvements Project
4 Pillars of the Rouge Beach Improvements Project
Mitigate impacts of climate change, flooding and erosion
In recent years, the Rouge Beach lower parking lot and access road have experienced a number of significant flooding events, resulting in repeated closures during the summer season. Some of these closures have lasted over three months. The effects of these flood-related closures and increasing shoreline erosion have negatively impacted visitor safety and use, as well as existing infrastructure. These conditions pose a significant threat to the long-term operational sustainability of the beach area. Flooding has also caused environmental damage through parking lot oil and salt spillage seeping into the nearby marsh and wetland ecosystems. Proposed enhancements to the area include raising the lower day use area, including the access road, above the fluvial floodplain along with erosion mitigation efforts to protect existing assets and facilities. Parks Canada is also proposing to close the lower parking lot (where flooding has been most severe) and adding additional parking spots and a canoe drop zone at the upper parking lot to compensate. The lower parking lot would be restored to a more natural state.
Improve safety, inclusivity, stewardship and connectivity for all visitors and residents
Existing beach facilities and visitor amenities are out-of-date and in advanced states of disrepair and decay, resulting in an unwelcoming environment that has become host to an array of inappropriate uses such as illegal fires, partying and loitering. The lower parking lot at the Rouge Beach is the site of traffic congestion, safety concerns, accessibility barriers and vehicle/pedestrian conflict. Furthermore, due to the lack of in-park trail connectivity, pedestrians must cross two dangerous Highway 401 ramps or walk on streets without sidewalks in order to transit between all areas of the national park north of Rouge Beach. Proposed improvements to the day use area include a redesign and reformat of the upper and lower parking lots, a renovation of the beach washroom facility, a replacement of the sanitary lift station and line, the addition of a pedestrian plaza and boardwalk pier, and amenities to support an increased presence of Parks Canada law enforcement, compliance and education staff. Further management actions to improve behaviours in the area will include: more Parks Canada-led garbage and beach clean-ups; fines of up to $ 1 million for dumping and pollution; increased law enforcement presence; a new compliance team to monitor visitor use; targeted summertime evening enforcement to reduce and work towards eliminating illegal activities. Formalizing a trail connection, including the addition of boardwalk components, will also help to safely connect residents and visitors from the beach to other areas of the park.
Restore ecosystems and improve ecological integrity
The project includes considerable ecological restoration work within the beach and surrounding marsh area, such as invasive species management and removal, expanded fish habitat, garbage reduction, protection for species-at-risk, increased ecological monitoring efforts, and the addition of wildlife-proof waste management. The proposed raised boardwalk will also catalyze an incremental reduction and restoration of unofficial, or social, trails that currently provide access to and negatively impact sensitive marsh habitat through trampling, illegal harvesting, and inappropriate uses such as partying. The boardwalk trail will provide visitors with a low-impact option to experience the site in a way that is respectful of this ecologically sensitive area.
Respect rights of neighbouring community and ravine property owners
The Rouge Beach and Marsh function as a cherished community hub, loved and enjoyed by members of the West Rouge community to the west and the Pickering Rouge community to the east. Residents value this area as an extension of their backyards and are recognized as important allies in its stewardship. Parks Canada respects the rights of all community members and is committed to listening to and working in collaboration and in good faith with park communities to balance Parks Canada’s diverse project objectives. Community feedback has been instrumental in helping Parks Canada to identify more favourable trail routes as well as operational considerations such as potentially putting in place community-friendly beach and trail operating hours.
Rouge River Boardwalk Route Options
We've included maps showing the three route options between the Mast Trailhead and Rouge Beach.
The descriptions for all three proposed routes begin at the Mast Trailhead parking lot and start out the same, heading south underneath Highway 401. However, important differences and distinctions for each option become apparent as you approach the Rouge Beach and Marsh area.
Each trail routing option presents opportunities and challenges that must be evaluated and assessed in unison with visitor experience, ecological health, and logistics and engineering considerations, as well as the impact on surrounding communities.
We are committed to co-designing the trail based on community and public stakeholder input.
Route 1: West Bank
The Route 1 trail option runs south from the Highway 401 underpass and transitions into a raised boardwalk that crosses the Rouge River twice, then continues along the river’s west bank. The boardwalk trail follows the pattern of the river and features two lookouts. Route 1 ends with a bridge connection from the west bank to the proposed pedestrian plaza at Rouge Beach.
More information on Route 1
Visitors will begin this route by crossing under Kingston Road along a 3m-wide ground-level asphalt trail, rounding a slight embankment, then crossing under Highway 401. The “roof” of the 401 feels enclosed, but views of the Rouge River open up to the east and there is an opportunity to design the area to be more welcoming through public art or other physical features.
Beyond Highway 401, the trail continues south into the woodlot along the west bank of the Rouge River. Mature forest canopy reaches overhead and the trail transitions into a 3m-wide raised boardwalk built on helical piles – steel screwdriver-like ground anchors used for building deep foundations.
The first proposed bridge crosses at the river straightaway and leads to another raised boardwalk through Moist Lowland Deciduous Forest. The trail crosses the Rouge River again at the second proposed bridge crossing to connect with the west bank.
The Route 1 boardwalk then veers slightly east to follow the pattern of the Rouge River. Depending on soil stability, the boardwalk will meander towards and away from the Rouge River to provide views of up and down the river. A lookout is proposed approximately halfway along the route, across from the existing chimney ruins.
The boardwalk continues along the west bank of the river, with views of the river to the east and opportunities for wildlife viewing in the shallow aquatic and deciduous forest habitats to the west. A second lookout is proposed at the north end of the Rouge Marsh.
From here, the canopy recedes, and the view opens up as the boardwalk makes its way along the spit through the mouth of the Rouge River marsh. Softly swaying cattails and other aquatic species frame the river and guide the visitor towards the final bridge, which connects to the proposed pedestrian plaza and Rouge Beach parking lot.
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Route 2: West Bank Crossing East Bank
The Route 2 trail option begins by following the same path as Route 1, running south from the Highway 401 underpass, transitioning into a raised boardwalk trail that crosses the Rouge River twice and follows the river’s west bank. The boardwalk follows the pattern of the river, features a lookout, then crosses a bridge to the east bank. From there, the boardwalk trail runs south along the narrow spit of the Rouge River channel. At the end of the spit, a floating boardwalk crossing and staircase connect the boardwalk trail with the east end of the existing pedestrian bridge.
More information on Route 2
This option follows the same course as Route 1 up to the third proposed bridge crossing along the trail.
As the boardwalk nears the marsh, the route crosses the Rouge River to the east bank. The slopes on the east bank in this location are very steep, allowing for open views on one side of the trail only. As the boardwalk trail moves south it follows the narrow spit along the east bank of the Rouge River channel.
Much like Route 1, views in this area open up along the spit and waterways are visible on both sides of the trail. At the end of the spit, a proposed floating boardwalk takes users across the inlet. The experience of being on the floating boardwalk and close to the water level provides an opportunity for viewing aquatic species.
At the southern end of the floating boardwalk, the route follows a steep slope up a set of stairs to the existing pedestrian bridge.
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Route 3: West Boundary
The Route 3 trail option begins by following the same path as Route 1, running south from the Highway 401 underpass and transitioning into a raised boardwalk that crosses the Rouge River twice. After the second river crossing, the boardwalk trail heads south, climbs a gentle slope and veers westward to a proposed lookout. From the lookout, the boardwalk trail descends a steep slope and follows the bluffs that border the western boundary. A floating boardwalk then crosses to the narrow spit along the west bank of the Rouge River. From there, the raised boardwalk follows the same path as Route 1, crossing a bridge to connect with the proposed pedestrian plaza at Rouge Beach.
More information on Route 3
This option follows the same path as Route 1 up to the southern end of the second bridge. The boardwalk trail then veers westwards up a gentle slope through mature woodland. The slope flattens and the visitor is surrounded by towering trees and the sounds of wildlife. As the boardwalk trail rounds a bend in the slope, a view of the shallow marsh ecosystem below opens up. A lookout is proposed at this location.
Following the lookout, the boardwalk trail must descend a steep slope to follow the bluffs that border the western boundary. Views to the west are blocked by the steep slope, however vistas to the east are open and provide generous views of the shallow marsh area.
At the tip of the bluff, where the shallow marsh narrows, a proposed floating boardwalk takes visitors across to the narrow spit along the west bank of the Rouge River. The experience of being on the floating boardwalk and close to the water provides an opportunity to view aquatic species, and recreational kayakers and paddle boarders.
Beyond the floating boardwalk crossing, this route follows the same layout as the Route 1 option along the marshy spit, crossing a final bridge to connect with the proposed pedestrian plaza at Rouge Beach.
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The beach and marsh area of Rouge National Urban Park is used extensively by visitors of all ages, interests and abilities, and the area accommodates many different recreational uses. Part of the conceptualization explores many ideas, including the creation of a pedestrian plaza for visitor recreation and programming, and day use amenities where the lower parking lot is located. This proposal will very much depend on creating new and expanded parking to offset the removal of any lower parking spaces. Parks Canada has entered into discussions with our partners, including the City of Toronto, to explore opportunities for new parking locations.
The digital rendition and conceptual images show a potential reimagined beach and marsh boardwalk area. Key factors include:
- Providing proper accessible facilities for visitor use, while preventing negative ecological impacts
- Ensuring substrates and grade are AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) compliant
- Restoring inland marsh ecosystems by decommissioning and restoring the lower parking lot, which is in a flood zone and has been flooded for two of the past four years
- Compensating for lost parking by adding a minimum of 50 new parking spots at the upper parking lot (and potentially adding dozens more on City of Toronto land across the street from the upper parking lot – see the parking section of the Frequently Asked Questions)
- Creating designated fishing areas and no-fish zones
- Updating infrastructure to better manage garbage and solid waste
- Updating the washroom building with modern, efficient and accessible utilities
- Creating a new facility “look and feel” that reflects the park’s natural and cultural themes
- Increasing Parks Canada presence of uniformed law enforcement (wardens), compliance, and outreach and education staff
- Improving wetland habitat; removing of invasive species and supporting species-at-risk recovery
- Putting in place infrastructure to protect the shoreline and mitigate erosion
- Naturalising and restoring social trails and reducing foot traffic in residential and sensitive areas; streamlining the human and visitor footprint to a managed trail with handrails
- Maintaining accessible parking
- Moving the canoe/kayak drop-off area and launch zone to the upper parking area
- Creating a pedestrian plaza experience that begins at the main beach entrance area at Rouge Hills Drive and Lawrence Avenue
The lower beach washroom facility will see renovations to both the exterior and interior to make it a more welcoming, safe, sanitary and inclusive space. These improvements include:
- The addition of a new gender-neutral, family-friendly universal washroom unit
- Updates to underground sanitary infrastructure and updated controls
- Addition of new exterior changing stalls and foot-wash stations
- New exterior water bottle-fill stations
- New integrated exterior lighting
- Updates to all plumbing fixtures
- Re-clad exterior walls along with new windows, doors and hardware
- New water closet partitions and washroom accessories (e.g. changing stations, benches, hooks, etc.)
- Refinished interior walls, flooring and ceiling
- Replacement of all interior lighting fixtures
- Elimination of existing accessibility gaps including, but not limited to, automating doors and fixtures, rearranging toilet units to increase maneuvering space, and providing fixtures and accessories at appropriate heights for different users.
- Potential addition of a new, two-unit universal washroom facility to the upper parking lot area
Parking lot redesign
- Parks Canada is proposing to decommission the lower beach parking lot near the Rouge River as it is subject to frequent flooding events and is in an environmentally sensitive part of the marsh.
- To compensate for the 70 lost parking spaces in the lower parking lot, Parks Canada will expand the upper parking at the intersection of Rouge Hills Drive and Lawrence Avenue by adding a minimum of 50 new parking spots. Parks Canada will also add 15 additional parking spots at the Mast Trail area, which is the northern end of the proposed formalized Rouge Marsh trail with boardwalk components.
- Parks Canada is also considering adding paid parking with time restrictions to the Rouge Beach area in the coming years, to help to reduce parking demands and congestion.
- Parks Canada has also entered into discussions with the City of Toronto to potentially expand their parking lot at the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Rouge Hills Drive (on the northwest side of Lawrence Ave) and/or to acquire additional lands on the north side of Lawrence Ave to add additional parking spaces near the current bus turnaround area on Lawrence Avenue. The city is currently reviewing this request.
- Parks Canada is planning to decommission the lower parking given that it is in a flood zone. As part of this work, most of the former parking lot will be naturalized and the natural seed bank will be allowed to regenerate. Select areas will be seeded with native cattail and some limited aquatic planting will take place in shallow waters. Invasive plants will be managed on an annual basis to encourage restoration of the native plant community.
- Tree species will be selected based on their suitability for the habitat in which they’re being planted. Key habitat features will be considered in the development of planting plans for each unique area (e.g. soil composition, proximity to water table, exposure to winds and storm events, etc.), which will influence the variety and proportions of species chosen. Only species native to the park will be used.
Examples of riparian species that may be planted include:
- Yellow Birch, Eastern White Cedar, Silver Maple, Red Maple, Red Osier Dogwood, Balsam Poplar, Tamarack and Riverbank Willow.
- White Birch, Sugar Maple, Black Cherry, Red Elderberry, Ironwood, Eastern White Oak, Eastern White Pine and Canada Serviceberry.
- Yellow Birch, Eastern White Cedar, Silver Maple, Red Maple, Red Osier Dogwood, Balsam Poplar, Tamarack and Riverbank Willow.
Invasive species removal
- A Parks Canada Integrated Pest Management Plan is currently in development for the entire park, and known issues south of Highway 401 will be targeted as part of this project to improve the overall health of park ecosystems.
- In the marsh itself, Phragmites australis, the European Common Reed, is a primary invasive plant species target for removal. Efforts to eradicate this species in the marsh are currently underway, and over 1 hectare of Phragmites was removed in 2020.
- In the upland areas bordering the marsh, efforts to manage invasive plants will focus on Dog-Strangling Vine, Japanese Knotweed, Garlic Mustard and European Buckthorn. Common carp are also present in Lake Ontario and the marsh ecosystem, as well as round gobies, and zebra mussels. These species will be managed, in part, through restoration design.
Raised pedestrian plaza
- Parks Canada is planning to raise the main access beach road, starting at Rouge Hills Drive and Lawrence Avenue, to become a pedestrian plaza with enhanced ecological marsh restoration features and planting.
- This road has been frequently flooded and needs to be raised to help prevent and mitigate future flooding, erosion and damage to public infrastructure.
- Additional parking spots will be added at the upper parking lot at the corner of Lawrence and Rouge Hills to compensate for lost parking in the lower parking lot area.
- The plaza will be elevated outside of the flood zone and Parks Canada is currently working with various agencies and consultants to determine detailed specifications.
Accessible design components currently being explored include:
- Addition of new, AODA-compliant canoe/kayak launch area with accessible transfer system
- Addition of up to three new universal washroom units
- Seasonal installation of a portable AODA-compliant Beach Access mat to enhance access to the waterfront
- Graded, AODA-compliant path connection from upper lot to marsh area
- Availability of adaptive recreational equipment for visitor use (e.g. floating beach wheelchairs, all-terrain mobility devices, adaptive paddling equipment)
- Ensuring that all outdoor furniture such as picnic tables, benches, waste receptacles are accessible
- Addition of new accessible changing stalls
- Tactile and visual cues will be integrated into site design to alert users to changes in terrain
Dedicated fishing areas
- Parks Canada plans to incorporate designated fishing areas in the new site plan to ensure that fishers, paddlers and beachgoers may safely enjoy and access the area.
- By designating fishing zones, Parks Canada aims to reduce the waste from broken fishing lines, injuries related to hooks/casting, and improve on-site education of Ontario fishing regulations and fish ecology. Dedicated fishing areas will allow Parks Canada to better manage negative consequences of unregulated fishing activity (e.g. excess garbage and debris, overharvesting, fishing out of season).
Dedicated canoe/kayak drop-off area
Parks Canada is planning to install a dedicated launch area to provide visitors with an easy-to-use, safe and accessible way to launch canoes, kayaks and other non-motorized water vessels.
Design features under consideration include:
- Gangway slope to launch site or floating platform that adjusts to changing water levels
- Guide rails on either side of the launch
- Transfer bench that would allow users to move easily from a mobility device to their vessel
- Launch rollers or underwater saddles that hold vessels steady while the user is getting situated
Sanitary line replacement
- The sanitary line at Rouge Beach is old and nearing the end of its life expectancy. The sanitary line has pipes going from the beach facility to the sanitary lift station and from the sanitary lift station to a manhole at Rouge Hills Drive.
- This sanitary line is connected to municipal servicing and due to sand build up in these lines over many years, Parks Canada needs to replace the pipes and upgrade the sanitary lift station as soon as possible to avoid potential line failure.
Longshore erosion controls
- Parks Canada is currently studying a range of long-term shoreline erosion controls. These options include the addition or extension of the groynes in the beach front area to help return the beach to a more naturalized sand spit and protect the shoreline and waterfront from further erosion.
- Groynes interrupt wave action and protect the beach from being washed away by longshore drift, the wave action that slowly erodes the beach.
- As part of this project, Parks Canada will look to explore beach shoreline erosion controls surrounding the waterfront and beach facilities.
- As this aspect of the project remains in the study phase, implementation would be deferred to a later date and is not anticipated to be part of phases I or II of this project, but may be introduced as a potential phase III after 2022/2023.
Climate change adaption
- Through Parks Canada’s Ecological Restoration Program, resiliency is built into Rouge National Urban Park’s ecosystems to mitigate impacts from climate change, including risks from flooding, erosion, and increased storm activity.
- By removing the lower parking lot and restoring the marsh to a more naturally functioning ecosystem, Parks Canada will help to reduce shoreline hardening and improve water quality by filtering urban run-off through a densely vegetated area.
- By planting thousands of trees and shrubs, and helping native marsh vegetation communities to rebound, Parks Canada will reduce carbon in the atmosphere, help to stabilize soils, and increase fertility of the natural environment (a single 40-foot tree releases approximately 60 cubic feet of oxygen into the air per day).
- Long-term plans to protect the shoreline will help to return the beach to a more naturalized sand spit, buffering shoreline erosion and mitigating damage resulting from rising water levels and increased storm action.