It was almost 20 years in the making and it was well worth the wait.
A new visitor centre at the heart of Arrowhead Provincial Park will provide a more central location for park users to access interpretive programs, rentals, a park store, and a place to warm up in the winter.
The park’s management plan, which was written in 2000, identified a visitor complex as a future need. “It’s been identified as something we wanted to do when funds became available,” said park superintendent Peter Briand, adding that planning and design began in earnest four years ago, followed by the installation of utilities and parking, and finally construction of the building itself over the past year.
“We’re happy with how it’s turned out,” said Briand. “I think it’s going to be a good facility for us.”
The visitor centre’s main floor houses a park store, which opened July 1, washrooms, office space, and a programming room with a stone fireplace and small kitchen that will be used for interpretive programs in the summer months and as a warming area in the winter. The kitchen may provide a concession area in the future. (See photos of the new visitor centre below.)
A deck with picnic tables overlooks an open green space that forms a natural amphitheatre. It may be used for outdoor interpretive programs and could include a fire pit in future years; it will become a ski playground for Arrowhead Nordic Ski Club’s Jackrabbit program in the winter months.
Next to that green space is a winterized picnic building with another stone fireplace, a small food preparation area, and a waxing room that will be used for ski programming in the winter. In the summer and as available in the winter it could be rented by community groups or families for gatherings.
The lower level of the visitor centre is where park users can rent bikes, canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. In the winter, the park store on the upper level will be converted to a ski, skate and snowshoe rental shop.
“We’ve been challenged as the visitation has grown here quite a bit over the last 10 years, particularly in the winter. We’ve gone from having 5,000-10,000 visitors in the winter to between 50,000 and 60,000, so this facility will give people some indoor space to warm up, have a lunch, and use the public washrooms. I think it will be well used,” said Briand. “It will be more convenient for folks. It’s much more central to have the park store here instead of up near the park office. It’s more central to the day use area, and the East River campground and Roe campground are within walking distance to the rentals and the store.”
The visitor centre complements the winterized comfort station that was installed a few years ago, and the park’s 10 rental cabins that were constructed over the last five years.
“Lots of thought went into (the visitor centre),” said John Leadston, Arrowhead’s assistant park superintendent and the project manager for the build. “It’s the focal point and a starting point for now. It has lots of potential. I can see there being a lot of interest in using this space. I think people will be impressed.”
You can visit any time the park is open, but Friday, July 20 is the ideal time to check it out. That’s Healthy Parks Healthy People Day, when day use is free at all Ontario Parks. You can also participate in these two events that day:
- Moodwalk, 10 a.m. to noon: Let the power of nature uplift your mind, body and soul on this interactive and experiential hike with facilitator Marghita Austin on the Stubb’s Falls Trail. Meet at the Beach 1 parking area.
- Paint for the health of it!, 10 a.m. to noon: A watercolour painting experience with a minimalistic approach to instruction and materials, which are provided. Suitable for all ages. Meet at the picnic shelter.
The visitor centre’s official opening ceremony won’t occur until December 2018 as part of Ontario Parks 125 celebrations. Watch for details at ontarioparks.com/op125.
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