Historical interpretation and aerial adventure park attracting visitors from around the world
Mansfield June 28, 2023
“What the thrill about this place is, beyond people jumping out of trees and flying down ziplines, is when they come around the corner, they start seeing the actual view of what the canyon and the waterfall look like,” said longtime Chutes Coulonge aerial park guide Matthew Chartrand.
Chartrand’s not wrong. Steeped in local history, Chutes Colognes’ enduring allure is evident in the far-flung places from which it draws people. An aerial adventure and historical interpretation park in Mansfield, Chutes Coulonge attracts visitors from around the world. On a map hung proudly on the wall in the main office, visitors have been invited to stick pins in to indicate where they are visiting from. Pins cover the map, representing every continent and corner of the globe.
Started in 1992, Chutes Coulonge Park was conceived as a means of celebrating the region’s historic logging industry. Perched along the shores of the Coulonge River where it cascades down the rock face forming the mighty Coulonge waterfall, and through an impressive gorge, the park celebrates the ingenuity, industriousness and straight-up bravery of the region’s log drivers and lumberjacks.
The logging industry utilized the power of flowing rivers to move their timber to market, dragging felled logs onto the ice in winter and floating them downstream during the spring melt. An imposing obstacle in the movement of timber down the Coulonge to where it meets the Ottawa, the Chutes Coulonge made this process more dangerous and less cost-effective as the timber would often break while tumbling over the falls, a thorn in the side of Pontiac lumberjacks for decades.
In response to this problem, timber baron George Bryson Sr. commissioned the construction of a 3,000-foot wooden log slide to bypass the falls. Built into the canyon walls, timber would be sent down the slide by rough and tumble loggers with rudimentary equipment.
Later, the wooden slide would be replaced by one made of concrete that, while deteriorating, still exists to this day. A linchpin within the storied logging industry of the Pontiac, the log slide bypassing the Coulonge Falls would be operational until the 1980’s.
Today, Chutes Coulonge hosts a wide variety of artifacts from the logging days. Educational panels tell the story of how logging formed the economic bedrock of the early Pontiac as visitors walk along the park’s hiking trails. A museum with bandsaws, axes and other traditional logging equipment beckons people inward as the unmistakable melody of The Log Driver’s Waltz rings through the air.
“This is the history of the Pontiac,” said outgoing Chutes Coulonge Park Director Tristan Fleming. “The log drive was huge, that’s why so many people are attracted here.”
In 2008, the park expanded into the adventure tourism business with the installation of its aerial park, adding a new dimension of thrill seeking to its already extensive historical education offerings. Among the parks towering pine trees, elevated platforms with obstacles between them invite guests to try their hand at navigating through the forest canopy. Kept safe with a trusty harness and helmet, guests can climb and maneuver through 14 obstacles and 10 ziplines.
And then, there’s the park’s keystone via ferrata.
Exploding in global popularity in recent decades, via ferrata’s are purpose-built recreational climbing routes installed along vertical rock faces. Italian for “iron way”, via ferrata’s are made up of steel fixtures of cables and bars that allow for a person donned in protective equipment to scale cliffs and escarpments, all without a skillset in rock climbing.
Safe, thrilling and fun, the via ferrata at Chutes Coulonge boasts ziplines that cross the rushing waters of the river below, before ascending the jagged cliffs of the surrounding canyon walls. With ziplines reaching heights of 135 feet and 600 meters of navigable via ferrata, the experience is one that many won’t soon forget.
Chartrand, who has worked at the park for over 10 years, says that the addition of the aerial park brought with it a new demographic of audacious, daredevil types. As time went on, however, he noticed the aerial thrills of the park being embraced by a broader community.
“What I have noticed over the years is the clientele has changed. My first year or two on-site, everybody was extreme,” said Chartrand, crossing his arms into an x-shape and flexing to accentuate his point. “I’d ask people ‘what did you do yesterday?’, and they would say ‘oh, I jumped out of a plane.’ And then over the years, it became more family orientated as opposed to just for these jumping-out-of-plane adrenaline junkies.”
The via ferrata is an activity designed to take people out of their comfort zone and place them in a gripping setting conducive to personal growth. Fleming says sharing that experience with guests for the first time is his favorite part of working at Chutes Coulonge.
“I love doing the via ferrata with people,” Fleming said. “I just love it. It’s fun just to do even yourself, but doing it with people for their first time is an awesome experience. They’re super cheerful, they always enjoy themselves. And you really share the excitement that they have, even though you’ve done it probably like a few hundred times.”
“I think it’s really cool to see the growth in people and how their confidence just built,” added incoming Park Director Grace Rebis. “By the time they do the second zipline they’re starting to feel it and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m getting the hang of this’. And that’s really awesome to see.”
While undoubtedly a thrilling experience – especially for those with an apprehensiveness for heights - Fleming insists that the park’s via ferrata can be enjoyed by most, albeit sometimes with some coaxing and encouragement from staff.
“A lot of people can feel like the via ferrata is super intimidating physically. But the vast majority of it is horizontal. And then we have these sections of verticals that are definitely doable. You don’t need to have climbed Mount Everest to do this,” Fleming said.
Fleming and Rebis say that while people travel from far and wide to experience all that Chutes Coulonge has to offer, they would love to see more locals at the park. After all, it is at the park that the region’s vibrant logging history is lovingly preserved and artfully showcased.
In hopes to see more Pontiac faces around the park, Chutes Coulonge is offering 15 per cent discounts on pre-booked visits from Monday to Friday. Give them a ring and experience what others have crossed oceans to see.
“A lot of the people that live around here, they always think, ‘oh, yeah, that looks like fun, I’ll do that’. But it’s only 20 minutes from home, and they actually never go out and experience the things that are close to them. So hopefully giving them a little bit of a discount, it’ll give them that extra incentive to get out there and try the things that are really in their own backyard,” Rebis said.
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