Donors have contributed $3.5 million towards the construction of a new 200-hecatre “super park” that will one day run along the banks of the Don River, Mayor John Tory says.

The “Don River Valley Park" campaign launched last year with the goal of developing the green space along the Don River from Corktown Common to the Evergreen Brick Works into a “river’s edge walkway” complete with public access points, pedestrian and cyclist trails and art installations.

While the money that has been raised so far won’t pay for the entire cost of the project, Tory said on Tuesday that it will pay for several initiatives that will make the existing green space more accessible, including improved signage, a pedestrian and cyclist bridge at Pottery Road that will serve as an entrance to the parkland and an accessible ramp and new trails that will connect Riverdale Park to the Don River. The money will also pay for the construction of a new staircase that will connect Dundas Street with the lower Don River.

“These preliminary steps are things that stopped me as a boy and probably many other people from going down there because there was no way to get down there and there was no way to find your way around down there or even get out,” Tory said. “It is pretty basic things but very important things that will make the lower Don more accessible and more useable.”

Construction on what Tory referred to as the “first mile” of the Don River park project has already begun and will be completed by the spring.

The next step will be to designate the land as City of Toronto parkland, Tory said. That process will begin later this week when staff report to the Parks and Environment committee on the feasibility of designating the land as parkland.

“You may say ‘what difference will that make?’ but it will actually make a big difference,”

Tory said. “It gives it in effect a formal recognition that will allow us to harness all the city’s resources and continue with the evolution of this space.”

About 250,000 people live near lower Don River

About 250,000 residents currently live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Don River Valley Park and city officials estimate that ongoing development in the West Don Lands, East Bayfront, waterfront and downtown areas will add another 60,000 people to that number eventually.

Speaking with reporters at Evergreen Brick Works, Tory said he envisions Don River Valley Park as something that could one day “accompany” a 21-acre park that he wants to see built atop a downtown rail corridor. That park, dubbed ‘Rail Deck Park,’ is currently being studied by city staff. The projected price tag is north of $1 billion.

“I have been talking a lot about parks recently because I think we have some catching up to do,” Tory said. “The population of the city is growing fast and if we want to catch up and keep up with our commitment to open space which is going to be needed to have a livable city, than we have to protect the green space we have and carve out new spaces.”

Earlier this month, during a debate over Rail Deck Park, city staff told council that only 48 acres of parks have been developed in the downtown core over the last decade. This despite a population that has grown by 122,000 residents over the last 15 years.

“We have been very good at approving the condo and office towers but we haven’t been so good at approving the parks and the open spaces and the community centres and the libraries that have to go with that development,” Tory said on Tuesday.