Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson acknowledges that the Government of Ontario has the final say on the reopening of the provincial park system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But his worship is imploring anyone that might venture to Sandbanks or North Beach this weekend to do so in a responsible way and adhere to the regulations of social distancing as well as understand, upon arrival, there are strict rules and restrictions in place.
On Saturday, the Ontario government announced it would be opening provincial parks and conservation reserves for limited day-use access. The first areas were opened on Monday with the remaining areas opening on Friday. The secondary staged openings include the local provincial parks in the form of Sandbanks and North Beach.
At this time, recreational activities will be limited to walking, hiking, biking and birdwatching. Camping and other activities are not permitted at any provincial park or conservation reserve in Ontario until further notice and All buildings and facilities including washrooms, water taps, campgrounds, backcountry campsites, roofed accommodations, playgrounds and beaches continue to be closed.
The province also announced day visitors will also be able to access all parks and conservation reserves for free until the end of the month.
“As we continue to make progress in our fight to stop the spread of COVID-19, we are carefully and cautiously reopening the province, starting with certain businesses and retailers, and now our provincial parks and conservation reserves,” said Premier Dog Ford. “I encourage people to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but please do so in a responsible way. Practise physical distancing and follow the rules set out by health care officials to stop the spread of this virus.”
The Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek said Ontario’s public are eager to enjoy the warmer weather, stretch their legs and reconnect with nature.
“In consultation with our health experts, we’re working to slowly phase-in the opening of Ontario Parks in a measured way to ensure the health and safety of visitors and staff. People should take note that not all amenities will be open and plan accordingly,” Yurek said.
While non-essential travel is still being discouraged at some levels, it appears allowing the public to access limited portions of the provincial park system is a COVID-19 bridge the province is willing to cross at this stage of the pandemic.
Mayor Ferguson said he agreed with Minister Yurek’s remarks that emphasize people who want to enjoy the outdoors must to do so in a responsible way.
“The public needs to practise physical distancing and follow the rules set out by Hastings Prince Edward Public Health in order to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Ferguson told the Gazette.
The Mayor also stressed that the popular Sandbanks Provincial Park is not fully operational. Washroom facilities and buildings remain closed as are park’s main focal points- the white sand beaches and the camping areas.
Without public washrooms, access to the beaches or a camp site waiting, the natural magnetic draw to the County’s most popular attraction should be severely diminished for those that ignore the province’s request to limit out-of-region travel.
“This is a slow re-opening with limited day-use activities only,” Ferguson said. “Furthermore, many facilities and amenities across the County remain closed.”
The mayor added the municipality has met with Sandbanks Superintendent Robin Reilly to discuss how the park will control traffic, maintain messaging as to what is and isn’t open and how those restricted areas will be controlled.
“We got a better understanding how they will get the message out that the beach and camping is closed before there’s a lineup at the gate. We will be sharing that message as well,” Ferguson said.
The province also announced that Over the next several weeks, Ontario Parks’ staff will be conducting critical maintenance and other parks start-up procedures, so that more recreational activities and facilities will be available when it is safe to do so.