Roger Jochym helped restore an old footpath in Montreal’s west end along a wooded escarpment that’s sandwiched between a commercial strip and a highway.
“It was an existing path that had been here for many years but had been overgrown,” he said as he toured an area just south of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce known locally as the Falaise St-Jacques.
While the linear patch of woods isn’t a forest to get lost in, it is still a popular place for birds and other wildlife. People like Jochym say it’s also a nice place to take a walk, soaking up a bit of nature despite the surrounding — and noisy — urban development that envelopes the thicket.
Activists have been fighting for years to protect the steeply sloped woodland and now the city is buying an abutting property in an ongoing effort to preserve the escarpment while also making it more accessible.
The escarpment’s slope is mostly in the Sud-Ouest borough. The slope goes from St-Jacques Street to Highway 20. A couple of years ago, a linear park, stretching about three kilometres, was established with a bicycle and pedestrian path along the bottom of the escarpment.
There are other smaller trails, maintained by volunteers, that lead off into the woods.
The city of Montreal is promising to invest over $8 million into renovating the space, starting with the purchase of a car repair shop.
Jochym is part of a group called Sauvons la falaise! The group’s founder, Lisa Mintz, said the repair shop is “exactly where we wanted an entrance to be, so we’re all for it.”
Renovating that entrance is part of the city’s larger plan to not only revitalize the area, but connect green spaces in Montreal, said Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, mayor of the Côte-Des-Neiges–NDG borough.
“When we’re going to finish this, it will be a significant improvement to the quality of life of NDGers,” she said.
The mayor said the city is dedicated to working with the province to create a long-planned bridge over the train tracks and highway for cyclists and pedestrians to connect NDG to the Sud-Ouest borough.
That bridge, discussed at the provincial and local level for ages, is expected to be green with plant life.
Jochym said he worries things aren’t moving fast enough on that project — which would allow people to access places like the Lachine Canal and Carrefour Angrignon on a bicycle more easily.
“We are still waiting and we are worried that delay is deny,” Jochym said.
Jochym said investing in an entrance is a good first step as he wants the trails to be more accessible.
But he said authorities need to be careful to not damage the ecosystem when doing any sort of construction.
City officials say they are dedicated to protecting the forest and wildlife as the area is developed into an accessible green space.