This Toronto city park has been 10 years in the making but it won’t be open anytime soon

Residents in Pickering and northeast Scarborough say they’re running out of patience as the city and the province continue to wrangle over the opening of a massive new park.

Beare Hill Park is 73 hectares of forest and meadow, criss-crossed with newly laid trails, teeming with wildlife and capped by a 60-metre high hill, from which visitors can see right across the Toronto area, down to the lakefront and beyond.

Owned by the City of Toronto, the park is built on the site of an old dump that closed in the 1980s  — and that’s raised some red flags with Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

The ministry won’t allow the city to open the site until it’s met health and safety benchmarks — in particular, keeping track of methane emissions, and maintaining a metres-deep clay cap over the garbage remnants.

“Number one, they want a management plan which outlines what monitoring will be done, so there are still a couple of wells on site that will be used to monitor off gassing from the site,” said Ray Vendrig, manager of the city’s urban forestry department, which has been helping create the park. “They also wanted some of the cap enhanced in certain areas.” 

WATCH | After years of overhauling, this Toronto park is still off-limits to residents:

People living near one of Toronto’s newest parks are frustrated that the space is still closed after years of construction. Here’s why officials working on the project say that is. 2:42

Pickering resident Steve Archer uses the park despite the fact it’s not officially open yet.

“It’s frustrating…I mean, this is a fully functional park,” Archer said. “I’ve heard of people walking the park, it’s very safe… Open the park.”

Lisa McLean, a natural environment specialist with the city, has been working on the park for a couple of years. She says she understands residents’ frustration.

This hole that’s been cut in the fence around Beare Hill Park acts as an impromptu entrance. The city says new gaps appear almost as soon as they fix old ones. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

“These things do take time,” she said. “It’s a process that we have to go through to ensure that public health and safety is the top priority. We need to make sure that the site is ready and safe before we open, and other landfill parks have gone through this process as well.” 

The city has spent the last couple of years installing new trails, paths and safety barriers. It’s even installed a counter to monitor the number of people who stroll the park’s new pathways, some repeatedly cutting entrance holes in the chain link fence that separates the park from the adjacent Rouge National Urban Park — almost as fast as the city can patch them up, according to city staff.

Joggers, dog-walkers, cyclists and people out for a stroll routinely use the park now, despite the fact that it won’t officially open for some time according to Archer.

Lisa McLean, with the city’s forestry department, has been working to create the park for a couple of years now. She calls it “a gem in the city.” (Sue Goodspeed/CBC News)

McLean says although she doesn’t condone trespassing, she understands that people are anxious to start using the park.

“This is such a gem in the city,” she said. “It’s good for the citizens of Toronto to be able to enjoy this park, but it’s also good for wildlife and ecology too.”

In an email to CBC News, a provincial environment ministry spokesperson said, “We are supportive of city greening projects, like Beare Hill Park, provided they are developed in a way that protects human health and the environment.

“While the Ministry supports the opening of this park, further consultation and review was needed to address potential health and environment issues.”

Vendrig said he’s hopeful the city will have met all the province’s requirements by the end of this year.

A city dump as recently as the 1980s, the site is a now a bona fide wilderness area that teems with wildlife, including coyotes and deer. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC News)

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