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Ottawa pledges more than $140-million to establish first urban national park

A hydro corridor crosses the Little Rouge River which is located in the proposed site of a national park which is currently Rouge Park. Some land will be acquired which will make the park stretch from Lake Ontario up to the town of Markham.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The federal government has committed $143.7-million over 10 years to establish a new national park in the Greater Toronto Area, the first urban park in the country's history.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced long-term funding to develop and run the Rouge National Urban Park during a meeting Friday to discuss plans for the new protected area. After 10 years, the east-end park is to get $7.6-million a year in operating funds.

The proposed boundaries extend from Lake Ontario in the south to the Oak Ridges Moraine in the north, a strip of forest and marshland. It will include land within the existing Rouge Park, plus additional federal lands west of the York-Durham town line.

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It is accessible by public transit and within easy reach of 7 million people. The government is planning public consultations, and aims to create what it calls a "people's park."

The new park was first promised in the Speech from the Throne almost a year ago.

It was also mentioned in the March budget, and although specific funding was not allocated, Parks Canada has been moving forward with it.

The announcement comes as the federal agency is implementing $29-million in budget cuts. Parks Canada is reducing the number of scientists and technical staff who help protect the ecological integrity, or health, of the parks across the country.

This has many experts worried about the future of our national parks.

But Parks Canada is facing another challenge: Attendance is declining, which may have long-term implications for public support. In 1995, 15.3 million Canadians visited a national park, compared to only 12.5 million last year.

The agency is hoping the new park will introduce Canadians to the parks system.

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