Gorge of Coaticook
The creation of the Gorge is a phenomenon that took place over a very long space of time, during the last glacial period nearly 50,000 years ago. At that time this region was covered by the Wisconsin glacier. During the melting period, the glacier created the preglacial lake in what is now Coaticook. Eventually, the lake shrank to the size of a river which found its bed through the thick layers of rock about 15,000 years ago.
Across many years, the Coaticook River created this magnificent gorge through erosion. The Gorge has a depth of 50 meters entirely created through a natural process. Although already very impressive, the Gorge continues to deepen year after year as the Coaticook River winds its way through the rock walls. Actually, in effect, the river deepens approximately 3mm (0.1 inch) per year. Landslides have allowed some trees to take root along the slopes. The river held witness to man made dams and dikes which were eventually washed away through force of nature and returned to their natural circumstance.
The Gorge, this natural phenomenon, is now a tourist business that attracts more than 225,000 visitors annually.
Where did this idea come from?
According to our research, the idea really began to take shape during the early 1970's. Actually the idea had floated around for quite some time but not taken very seriously. Then the municipal council of the time looked at seemingly odd projects such as the construction of an airport and a center for Alpine skiing. They also studied the development of the Coaticook River Gorge.
It would wait, however, until February 1975 before the actual work formally began on the layout of the project. A trail started out beginning from the old buildings on Michaud St. and went as far as the old Penman's factory. A southern trail started out from the hydroelectric plant, along the top of the cliff to just in front of the Belding-Corticelli factory. A stairway led to the bottom of the Gorge in a diagonal direction to the Belding plant.
Investments were used in the amount of $325,000.00 with $4,000.00 provided by the Town of Coaticook and $271,000.00 coming from the federal government. It was in honor of this Gorge that Coaticook came to be known as the Pearl of the Eastern Townships. It was in October 1976 that the first visitors and the public were invited to visit the Gorge. The objective was that people would find this a great place to visit and they would continue to contribute towards its development. There were more that 1,200 people who came to visit October 3, 1976 and discover this natural phenomenon.
It was not until 1977 that the tourism business site known as the Parc de la Gorge, Coaticook became open to the public. The area was composed of 33 acres and in 1978, the Park welcomed 30,000 visitors. According to some studies at the time and thanks to its distinctive drawing power, the Park could accommodate up to 100,000 visitors annually.
The mandate of this project was to develop, enhance, maintain, and make accessible the park and its makeup within a context of environmental protection, education and awareness, planning and sustainable development within the area. Its mission is to ensure and maintain the environmental quality of natural sites of interest and to contribute to the preservation of the collective wealth; plan, maintain and develop these areas while respecting their natural character and assure that their use of comes within the integrity of the environment; preserve, enhance and build heritage; assure sustainable management, in the interest of the community and visitors.
In 1981, many attended the opening of Le Gosier (neck), the birth of a theater hall and the Michaud reception building that we know today after an investment of approximately $135,000.00.
In 1982, the provincial government chose to grant funding in the amount of $75,000.00 in order to continue with the construction of the bridge.
The next big step to be taken was the construction of the suspension bridge which was officially opened in 1989. It was built by a local company called Couillard Construction. The suspension bridge is certainly the most spectactular attraction of the park. As for the site, it took six months to complete, from July to December 1988. The official opening took place on May 29, 1989 and the project required $628,000.00 in investment, most of which was through grants from the provincial government. The bridge was then confirmed by the Guiness World Records Society as being the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. (50 m high (164 x 169 ft., 554 meters long) (This title was lost in 2006 by another bridge that was built in Japan).
Subsequently, in 1995, the Town went on to build a replica of a noted round barn which had been popular in the Eastern Townships. It cost $800,000.00 to build and today the round barn is the place where visitors are welcomed each year. Hiking trails, a foot bridge and a second observation tower were lated developed. In 1998, the Town proceeded to rebuilt the covered bridge which had been washed away by floodwaters.
The park has also created campgrounds, bicycle trails and a riding center.
It was in 2011, that the Park invested $350,000.00 to complete the round barn which is now used to its full potential, adding about 20 more camping spots, 3 other services and a brand new playground.
The park today is situated on 615 acres of land. It offers an array of activities, summer and winter. These unique pedestrian trails and the 178 forest camping sites remain some of the most popular activities of the summer. The horse riding center, the mountain bike trails, the small animal farm, the floral garden and several other attractions bring thousands of visitors to the park over the course of the summer season. With regard to winter activities, snow tubing and showshoeing seem to be the most popular. Several other seasonal activities are added, year after year.
Thanks to an investment of $900,000.00, the Parc de la Gorge, Coaticook blew away all the previous tourist attractions by creating the new site **Foresta Lumina** which in less that 60 evening displays hosted more than 72,000 visitors. This nocturnal journal of two kilometers through the woods, where from the garden of wishes until the enchanted roadway and through the magical portal, we discover the fantastic world of the Gorge at night.
As for camping in a quiet, enchanting wooded area, the camp sites at the Park Coaticook Gorge, represents the perfect place for campers who wish to visit this region.
There is a swimming pool, pedestrian trails to hike, horseriding, biking and pony rides. With or without services, places have been set aside for picnic tables, and fire pits. Two warm shelters have been made available. The land is divided into five sections.
We are prepared for now but more will soon follow...
Source: Caroline Sage, Director Park de la Gorge Parc Decouvert nature