Paid parking reinstituted at conservation areas but Little Bluff remains closed

Beach goers at Little Bluff Conservation area in 2019. While Quinte Conservation has reactivated paid parking at other conservation areas, Little Bluff remains closed until further notice (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Paid parking is returning to Quinte Conservation (QC) sites on September 1 but the organization’s Little Bluff property in South Marysburgh will remain closed until further notice.

The regional conservation authority owns and regulates activities on  just over 30,000 acres of land throughout the 6,000 km2 watershed. Some of those properties are conservation areas that are open for public use and collectively make up 75 km of nature trails.

But over the last few months, these protected places have faced many challenges with non-permitted activities, overuse, and overall general disrespect of the integrity of the areas.

Such damaging use and blatant disrespect at the Little Bluff Conservation Area led QC to make the unheralded decision to close the pebble beach expanse off of County Rd. 13 near Halfmoon Bay and it’s clear from the tone of QC CAO Brad McNevin that the summer of 2020 has been extremely trying.

“We receive reports every day about the mistreatment of these beautiful areas. We have four field staff to service our properties and if all they are doing is picking up garbage and decommissioning fire pits all day, then the projects they need to be doing can’t be completed,” McNevin said. We are pleading with visitors to be respectful of these areas. We don’t have the resources to keep up with this behaviour and if it continues, more of these places may face temporary closure.”

Conservation lands were established with the purpose of protecting the natural ecology and the overall health of our watersheds. Lands that had potential for recreational activities like hiking, birdwatching, and picnicking are known as conservation areas. These lands are privately owned by conservation authorities throughout Ontario and activities, amenities, and use vary depending on the region.

Visitors to conservation areas should be aware of non-permitted activities before entering and those include no camping and/or fires, no garbage dumping, no off-leash dogs, no alcohol or drug use, and no motorized vehicles on trails.

QC receives funding through a variety of avenues, however the largest amount comes from municipal funding and it is used for mandated programs like flood forecasting. The Authority relies heavily on donations, grants, and the paid parking program to support the conservation areas and does not have the resources to handle these challenges.

Starting September 1st, paid parking will begin again at QC’s areas.

“We were happy to give visitors an opportunity to spend time in nature during this pandemic, but with everything that has been going on, the time has come to reinstate the parking fee,” McNevin said

At this time, QC staff would like to acknowledge all of the trail stewards, neighbours, and area users who have upheld the standards and taken it upon themselves to clean up after other visitors who have shown little appreciation for these outdoor spaces.

“We are so thankful to those that have taken time out of their day to keep us informed and those that have put their own safety at risk picking up a strangers trash during a world-wide pandemic so that the next visitor doesn’t have to,” says McNevin.

Quinte Conservation’s areas are open for public use every day (unless posted) from sunrise to sunset. These natural spaces are not parks and shouldn’t be considered as such. Non-permitted activities can have a serious impact on plants and wildlife and can be detrimental to rare and endangered species. Visitors are asked to stay on marked trails and keep dogs leashed, take out garbage brought in, and follow leave no trace principles. These non-permitted activities are chargeable offences under Section 29 of the Conservation Authorities Act. Those in violation of the Act may be subject to a fine.

Quinte Conservation is a community-based environmental protection agency. It serves 18 municipalities in the watersheds of the Moira, Napanee and Salmon Rivers and Prince Edward County. It provides cost-effective environmental expertise and leadership. Quinte Conservation’s main goal is to create a sustainable ecosystem where people and nature live in harmony. More information about Quinte Conservation is available at www.quinteconservation.ca