An invitation for participation

Parks Canada is seeking feedback about coastal access in the Watts Road area of PEI National Park and a viable solution that may enable low-impact coastal access at Watts Road while also ensuring protection of the ecological integrity of this sensitive Zone I Special Preservation Area. 

The Watts Road boardwalk has reached the end of its lifecycle and presents a visitor safety risk. As a result, the boardwalk was scheduled to be decommissioned in the spring of 2021. After receiving feedback from the local Municipality, residents and other interested parties, Parks Canada paused the decommissioning of this infrastructure to provide more time to for engage the community and receive input from interested parties. During the summer and early fall of 2021, Parks Canada undertook an exercise to re-examine the decision to decommission the boardwalk and ensure we were considering all potential options. This exercise concluded that replacing the current boardwalk is not possible given the ecological sensitivity of this area and the Agency’s legislated mandate to protect these areas for all Canadians. As a result, we are looking for constructive input regarding alternate access to the coast from Watts Road via the PEI National Park boundary corridor. 

Parks Canada is committed to working with the Municipality, residents of the area, and other interested parties to identify a viable solution that may enable low-impact coastal access from Watts Road while also ensuring protection of the ecological integrity of this sensitive area of PEI National Park.

You are invited to learn more about the Watts Road area and then share your input through an online survey . The survey will be live from November 26 2021 to January 14, 2022.

Background

The protection of ecological integrity is a legislated mandate of Parks Canada

The Watts Road area of PEI National Park is home to a sensitive and rare ecosystem, including a cranberry bog and wetland that has been flagged as an area of concern for protection. Wetland habitats are sensitive to human activities and even minimal disturbance can result in negative impacts. As outlined in the 2017 PEI National Park Management Plan, PEI National Park at Watts Road is a Zone I Special Preservation Area. Zone I is the most protected category in the Parks Canada zoning system. This zone is applied to areas of the park that are among the best examples of the features that represent the natural region, or that support outstanding or rare natural or cultural features. This zone may also be used to protect areas that are too sensitive to accommodate facility development or large numbers of visitors. Within Zone I areas, preservation is the primary management concern. In addition, the length of PEI National Park coastline at Watts Road is gazetted [1] Critical Habitat for the Endangered Piping Plover and there has been nesting activity in this immediate vicinity in recent years.  

The Watts Road boardwalk intersects a Zone I Special Preservation Area:

Map of Watts Road, Prince Edward Island National Park.

Parks Canada has a legislated mandate to protect ecological integrity, and to improve the ecosystem health of PEI National Park. One way of achieving this is to improve the integrity of the coastal ecosystem. In protecting coastal areas, we improve the resilience of the park and the coastline to climate change impacts such as increased coastal erosion. Climate change impacts to Parks Canada-administered places are complex, and the Agency is committed to integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation actions into its work. By protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems, Canada’s network of protected areas form part of a natural solution for climate change.

All national parks have a legislated requirement to prepare management plans to guide management decisions. In preparing the PEI National Park Management Plan, which was tabled in parliament in 2017 and includes these zoned areas, Parks Canada consulted extensively with First Nations, Islanders and Canadians.  The plan outlines the key strategies, objectives and targets to guide park management and decision making for a 10-year period. Management of the Watts Road area of PEI National Park is guided by this plan. Key Strategy 2 of the plan explicitly states the following:

  • “the health of coastal, wetland, freshwater and forest ecosystems will be monitored during the course of this plan, and when appropriate, restoration and management actions will be undertaken to maintain and improve conditions”;
  • “climate change research and predictions will be integrated into natural and cultural resource management decisions”; 
  • “coastal erosion is managed by restoration and retreat as a first priority”; and 
  • “infrastructure at risk due to coastal erosion are relocated inland to ensure visitor safety and natural/cultural resource protection”.

The existing boardwalk at Watts Road intersects a special preservation zone wetland and cranberry bog, and as such, replacing infrastructure in this protected area does not align with Parks Canada’s mandate and the Agency’s commitment to protect ecological integrity. The removal of this infrastructure will support improvement of the integrity of PEI National Park’s coastal ecosystem overall, and improve the resilience of the national park coastline to climate change impacts such as increased coastal erosion and inland flooding.

Coastal Access at Watts Road

There is a 200-meter long wooden boardwalk at Watts Road in Tracadie, PEI which intersects the wetland in the area and has historically provided pedestrian access to PEI National Park’s coastline. The boardwalk is used primarily by residents of the Rural Municipality of North Shore. This infrastructure has reached the end of its lifecycle and replacing infrastructure in this sensitive and protective zone of PEI National Park does not align with Parks Canada’s legislated mandate to protect ecological integrity.  

Aerial view of Tracadie, PEI National Park

Map of Watts Road in PEI National Park.

Based on a recent Ecological Impact Assessment and careful review of ecosystem features in this area, it will not be possible to establish an alternate path that crosses the Zone I habitat or that arrives at the same location on the coast. Parks Canada supports maintaining pedestrian access to the coast from Watts Road, and the boundary corridor (indicated on map in yellow, above) is the option that reflects this while upholding the Agency’s legislated mandate to all Canadians. 

Feedback and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Parks Canada has received numerous comments, questions, and suggestions regarding coastal access at Watts Road from interested parties. Municipal Council from the Rural Municipality of North Shore and community members, including residents of Watts Road, have shared how important this area is, expressed concerns as well as interest in the opportunity to both learn more and provide input to the process of determining the viability of future coastal access at Watts Road.

In light of this feedback, Parks Canada paused the decommissioning of this infrastructure, walked the area extensively, revisited the Ecological Impact Assessment, analyzed options, re-examined our own processes, went over alternative options for coastal access and confirmed legally permissible options in this Zone I Special Preservation Area. Unfortunately, replacing the current boardwalk is not viable and an alternative route that would transect the Zone 1 area northward from Watts Road is not possible. 

The following FAQs have been asked in relation to coastal access at Watts Road in PEI National Park. We want to share what we have heard, and provide context and answers to help better inform the public about the current situation and options that have been examined. You are invited to read on for Parks Canada’s responses to these common questions. 

Q. Why is Parks Canada removing the boardwalk?

A. This boardwalk intersects a wetland and cranberry bog and is located in a Zone I Special Preservation Area. Zone I is the most protected category in the Parks Canada zoning system. Areas administered by the Agency are classified according to their ecosystem and cultural resource protection requirements, and their capability and suitability to provide opportunities for visitor experience.
Since the time when Prince Edward Island National Park was established, Parks Canada’s primary mandate has shifted to prioritize conservation, protection and ecological integrity. As a result, infrastructure and where it was placed in the past may no longer be legal or advisable in light of the latest coastal ecosystem science and climate change vulnerabilities.

Parks Canada has a legislated mandate to protect ecological integrity, and is among the few national parks systems in the world that have a system-wide ecological integrity monitoring and reporting program, consisting of more than 700 scientific measures that inform park-specific priorities and guide restoration action. Wetland habitat in PEI National Park has been flagged as an area of concern for protection, as the current trend for ecological integrity of wetland habitats is decreasing.  Wetlands are considered sensitive to human activities and even minimal disturbance can result in negative impacts. The existing boardwalk intersects a wetland and cranberry bog, and as such, replacing infrastructure in this protected area does not align with Parks Canada’s mandate or the Agency’s commitment – as a first priority – to protect the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole.

The removal of this infrastructure will support improvement of the integrity of PEI National Park’s coastal ecosystem overall, and improve the resilience of our coastline to climate change impacts such as increased coastal erosion and inland flooding. By protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems, Canada’s network of protected areas form part of a natural solution for climate change.

Q. Why can’t the same route or a similar route that leads north to the same area of the coast be possible? 

A. This infrastructure at Watts Road is in a Zone 1 Special Preservation Area. Unfortunately, the current boardwalk is not viable and a route on this same footprint or a similar alternative route that transects the Zone I Special Preservation Area northward from Watts Road is not possible. The PEI National Park Management Plan guides management decisions for the park, which includes the Watts Road area. Key Strategy 2 of the plan explicitly states the following:

  • “the health of coastal, wetland, freshwater and forest ecosystems will be monitored during the course of this plan, and when appropriate, restoration and management actions will be undertaken to maintain and improve conditions”;
  • “climate change research and predictions will be integrated into natural and cultural resource management decisions”; 
  • “coastal erosion is managed by restoration and retreat as a first priority”; and 
  • “infrastructure at risk due to coastal erosion are relocated inland to ensure visitor safety and natural/cultural resource protection”.

The existing boardwalk at Watts Road intersects a special preservation zone wetland and cranberry bog, and as such, replacing infrastructure in this protected area does not align with Parks Canada’s mandate and the Agency’s commitment to protect ecological integrity. The removal of this infrastructure will support improvement of the integrity of PEI National Park’s coastal ecosystem overall, and improve the resilience of the national park coastline to climate change impacts such as increased coastal erosion and inland flooding.

The Zone I Special Preservation Area is protected by Parks Canada for all Canadians. The Agency has defined offers in PEI National Park for the benefit of all Canadians in less ecologically sensitive areas of the park. Infrastructure developments in national parks must show demonstrable benefit to all Canadians to move forward.

In light of the legal restrictions against development in a Zone 1 area, the existing pathway along the Prince Edward Island National Park boundary corridor is the only option for providing alternate pedestrian access from Watts Road to the coast.

Q. Why can’t Parks Canada just repair the boardwalk like it has before? Why now does the boardwalk need to come out?

A. The boardwalk has reached the end of its lifecycle and presents a visitor safety concern. Given the state of disrepair, and in light of the infrastructure being located in a Zone I Special Preservation Area where infrastructure is not to be placed, Parks Canada is positioned to decommission the boardwalk. 

Parks Canada is accountable to tax payers and has a legislated mandate and commitment to protect ecological integrity. The Agency receives the support and confidence of Canadians because we protect these areas for all Canadians.

We understand that coastal access is important to residents of Watts Road for a number of reasons. We support the continued provision of coastal access at Watts Road in a way that reflects our legislated mandate and the zoning in this area of PEI National Park.

Q. Isn’t this boardwalk comparable and in the same Zone as the floating boardwalk in PEI National Park at Greenwich? 

A. The floating boardwalk in PEI National Park at Greenwich crosses a pond and not a marsh, dune slack and cranberry bog, as is the case with the boardwalk infrastructure at Watts Road. The floating boardwalk is in a Zone 2 designated area, as compared with the boardwalk at Watts Road which is in a Zone I Special Preservation Area – the most protected category under the Parks Canada zoning system.

The boardwalk in Greenwich was strategically installed to protect and present this ecosystem and is a flagship Parks Canada offer to increase public awareness about coastal ecosystems. When this area of PEI National Park at Greenwich was gazetted and zoned, part of the agreement was intentionally zoning the boardwalk as Zone II for public education purposes. 

What do you think?

Parks Canada values stakeholder input and would like to hear feedback from interested parties regarding coastal access at Watts Road in PEI National Park. 

Beginning November 26, 2021, an online survey will be launched to collect feedback and constructive input about coastal access in the Watts Road area of PEI National Park via the PEI National Park boundary corridor. The online survey is being hosted on the Rural Municipality of North Shore website and will be live until January 14, 2022. All interested parties are invited to complete the survey. Paper copies of this survey are available upon request by calling 902-672-6350 or by emailing parcscanadaipe-parkscanadapei@pc.gc.ca. The survey provides a forum for capturing comments and feedback and your response is important to help inform decision making and next steps. 

Thank you for your time and feedback. An update will be shared following the completion of this engagement process. 


 

[1] Gazetted: Published in The Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the Government of Canada.