Visitor levy at Sandbanks option worth pursuing for County

While it may not go anywhere fruitful, full credit must be paid to Mayor Steve Ferguson for at least trying to start a discussion concerning some sort of levy at our local provincial parks to help benefit Prince Edward County at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa last week.

So there can be understanding as to how and why the municipality finds itself in its current situation, we should review how the tourism trail to this bucolic ‘burg went from an unbeaten path to a five lane super highway. Look in the pages of the 1950’s and 60’s editions of the Picton Gazette and front page news in those days usually involved large catches of fish. The East Lake bass factory or Muskellunge on West Lake or pike and ‘pickeral’ at Green Point were noted weekly and the successful anglers were almost exclusively visitors from New York or Ohio or Pennsylvania.

Throw in an expanse of white sand beach near the hamlet of Outlet, previously serving as cow pasture that was taken over by the Ontario government to be a new provincial park and, suddenly, tourism started to tick in Prince Edward County.

Glacially at first but through promotion but mostly word-of-mouth, more and more people started to “discover” Prince Edward County.

Tourism became an emerging pillar of the local economy and soon, it was on par with agriculture and other leading drivers.

Then, in the early 2000’s, Chief Economic Development Officer Dan Taylor brought forward a concept called the creative rural economy.

Instead of trying to attract large scale industry (and being rebuffed for being too far off the 401 corridor), the thrust would be to market Prince Edward County- everything from the burgeoning wineries to restaurants to art studios to farm-to-table culinary adventures.

Secondary and tertiary services and micro-industries would arise to service the influx of people that would come here, spend their money, fall in love with the place and pay a return visit the following year.

Talk to any resident or business owner that relies on tourism and they would certainly agree this concept and the marketing of Prince Edward County has worked exponentially over the last decade. And that’s the key term as the volume of tourism has multiplied in intensity since those early days and continues that upward trend year over year.

At the heart of all this destination marketing and dream vacation selling has been the crown jewel of the local tourism game.

The beach.

Undertaxed and over visited, Sandbanks continues to be the ultimate tourism magnet as we roll out the red carpet every spring for most of Ontario, the western half of Quebec and hoards of Americans from the upper north eastern United States.

But with nary the tax base to pay for the ones we have now, our roads take a pounding all summer as we become the destination of choice for every visitor looking to escape their daily lives for a chance to live like a Prince Edward County resident.

Thankfully, it appears this provincial government is at least willing to have a discussion about what it means to be a massively popular tourist destination without the tax base to pay for the upkeep of the crumbling infrastructure under the tires of every car that drives onto the island.

We need help. We don’t have the critical mass to pay for the roads we have and they aren’t holding up very well thanks to the popularity of our community.

Kudos to Mayor Ferguson for advancing the idea of getting a buck or two at the gate at Sandbanks and potentially netting infrastructure funding that will lessen the burden on Prince Edward County taxpayers. Here’s hoping someone is listening.

Jason Parks