Provincial Park pilot project poised to placate public

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, County of Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson and Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek at Sandbanks Provincial Park on Thursday. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Outgoing Minister the Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek was in Prince Edward County Thursday to formally announce a 17 provincial park pilot project aimed at alleviating congestion, crowding, disappointed visitors and frustrated residents.

As part of the government’s plan to make it easier and more affordable to get safely outdoors and enjoy nature by providing free day-use permits at 115 provincial parks from

Monday to Thursday until Sept. 2, 2021,  visitors are now able to guarantee access to 17 select provincial parks, including Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County to avoid long line-ups during popular and busy visitation times
by obtaining a daily vehicle permit in advance.

Those looking to visit Sandbanks and the other high-volume parks participating in the pilot project will be able to secure their permits up to five days prior to their visit. Doing so should help reduce congestion and traffic snarls at the gate and thus will help ease frustrations along County Roads 18, 12 and 11 from residents and visitors alike. Yurek said the system will mean visitors can spend time enjoying the parks, prevent overcrowding and less time
in long lines. Visitors can check daily vehicle permit availability for specific parks and dates on the reservations website at www.reservations.ontarioparks.com.

“Getting outdoors and spending time in nature can have many positive benefits on our physical and mental health this summer as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” said Yurek. “That’s why our government is making easier for people to safely enjoy nature by providing free day-use permits and making it possible to book day trips in advance which guarantees access to the popular parks close to home.”

In his remarks, Yurek noted the increased tourism growth in Prince Edward County has introduced additional cahllenges to the community including traffic, parking and visitor management and this is why the provincial government was introducing the pilot project in the municipality on Thursday.

County of Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith mentioned Thursday was one of several times Yurek had visited Prince Edward County in the last couple of years to assess the Sandbanks situation as popularity of the golden sand beach areas fronting on Lake Ontario and West Lake has skyrocketed amongst visitors. Trying to avoid huge lineups that back onto municipal roads and find an easier way for visitors to enter and leave the park in a more orderly fashion is something the Ministry staff hope to alleviate with the new system.

“The ability to book day use at Ontario Parks in advance offers peace of mind to visitors and reduces waiting at the park gates. It also eases the impacts of congestion on local roads and that’s important to our community,” said Todd Smith, MPP for Bay of Quinte. “I’m also excited to learn that more families will be able to enjoy these beautiful natural spaces through free admission Monday-Thursday.”

Yurek explained the new process and investments were about providing a world-class experience at Ontario Parks facilities.

“Sandbanks is a very popular destination for both visitors and community members, particularly in the summer time and I understand how important this park is to your community,” Yurek said. “(Smith) has been a terrific advocate for this community regarding the traffic and other issues that have arisen with regards to visitors and traffic management.”

County of Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson applauded the move to an online reservation system, pointing to Minister Yurek’s engagement at the end of last summer when those aforementioned municipal roadways became grid locked for kilometres beyond the park gates.

“Last summer Minister Yurek committed to changes for 2021 and from that date onward, municipal and ministry staff worked on details and concerns in a way that would overcome what was experienced here last year,” Ferguson said. “As a result the County is delighted with the Ontario government’s announcement of daily vehicle permit system at Sandbanks and North Beach and other parks. The system is one tool we have long advocated for to better manage visitation to the park and avoid those long lineups that block County roads that frustrate businesses, visitors and local residents.”

The mayor added the County wants to see this system succeed and views 2021 as a learning year.

Minister Yurek mentioned the ministry is also implementing a number of other initiatives for the provincial park system including: Upgrading more electrical campsites while also expanding and improving roofed accommodations, such as cabins and yurts over the next four years;  Inviting the private sector to submit their most innovative ideas for new recreation experiences they can deliver at parks, with the best ideas receiving support through seed money; and Creating a one-stop shop for all local, regional, provincial and national park recreation opportunities in Ontario.

Ontario Parks are currently open to the public for local day-use activities only, such as walking and hiking. As part of the Province’s Roadmap to Reopen, overnight stays in Ontario Parks including campsites and in cabins, yurts and cottages are now permitted within Step 1.