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New locations to be reviewed for potential Woodchester viewing platform

Despite Bracebridge’s Planning and Development Committee giving its stamp of approval for the proposed Woodchester viewing platform, council has asked staff to bring forward new location ideas.

Three options were provided to the committee at its Oct. 5 meeting, but concerned resident Mark Henry brought forward a potential fourth location at the Oct. 12 Bracebridge council meeting. That inspired Coun. Don Smith to put forward a motion to ask town staff to bring forward new options at a later committee meeting. 

His motion was passed and now committee will discuss the issue again once new location ideas are brought forward.

Henry proposed building the viewing area below the parking lot across from the RONA building at 10 Entrance Dr. He said it’s a secluded, underutilized area beside the Muskoka River. He said  Henry said it’s accessible, has 24-hour lighting, and it could be possible to install more if needed. He noted that it’s historically significant because of its proximity to the former Bird Mill site and it would be sandwiched between the Bird Mill Power Station and the former warehouse that is now known as the Visitor Information Centre.

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Henry pointed out it has good access, parking, internet, and good security and believes it will be a “much better return for downtown business.” In the past, he says picnic tables were placed in that area. 

The option recommended by town staff and previously approved by council would have seen an octagonal viewing platform built using pressure-treated lumber around a large white pine tree featuring railings and bench seating. It would be connected to the adjacent walking trail by an accessible pathway. According to the staff report, the first option would require the “least amount of tree removal and pruning” with only the larger dead, dangerous or diseased trees removed. A few smaller trees will be moved further down the ravine to allow for better spacing between the remaining trees. The remaining trees will be pruned to enhance the views from the platform.

Cheryl Kelley, Director of Planning and Development, noted that the up to $47,500 in provincial funding the town was set to receive for the project would no longer be applicable if Henry’s proposed location is used. According to the staff report, the project is estimated to cost $45,507. 

She also pointed out that with new locations set to be discussed, it will make it difficult to meet the June 20th, 2023 deadline to get work done. If council doesn’t go with Henry’s proposed location, the funding would still be possible, but Kelley says it may end up being too difficult to complete the work in time.

Coun. Barb McMurray has argued during past discussions that the Bird family needs to be involved in the final decision. The family lived in the Woodchester Villa until the late 70s when it was sold to the Bracebridge Rotary Club and later gifted to the Town of Bracebridge to be used as a museum. One of the specifications of the 1981 agreement the town has with the estate of Mary Speers, a descendant of the Bird family, is that the property is used as a nature conservation area for the enjoyment of residents. McMurray said council should be following that vision. 

She suggested that when and if the platform is constructed it be named after Speers.

During the meeting, it was not said when the new report will be done. However, with the Oct. 12 meeting being council’s last before the Oct. 24 municipal election, a decision on the viewing platform will be made during the next term of council.

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