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GRCA taking go-slow approach to ice-storm cleanup of parks and trails

Deemed unfit for users after December’s ice-storm, many still-closed GRCA trails and parks are just as dangerous for well-meaning volunteers eager to clean up and get them reopened, the agency says.

“While the sentiment is admirable, it’s also misguided. It could actually result in making conditions more dangerous for people entering our properties,” said Dave Schultz, Grand River Conservation Authority spokesman.

Several volunteer callers had to be turned away as the cleanup job is more than can be handled by the average person.

“As we have said since the storm, the biggest challenge is not the stuff lying on the ground. By far, the bigger threat is above: the broken and damaged branches and trees that are just waiting to fall during the next big wind, or under the weight of the next ice- or snowstorm,” he said in an open letter to the public in response to the inquiries.

The damage was devastating to extensive swaths of conservation areas stewarded by the GRCA, with the worst further north in the Elora-Fergus area and Conestoga Lake, where the trails were in bad shape due to whole trees being knocked over. Large accumulations of snow, with high drifts, have made cleanup particularly slow in some of the more remote areas.

The first order of business was to take care of access points and roads, Schultz explained. He admits that liability is an issue.

“The GRCA has made a deliberate decision to leave the stuff on the ground, to deter people from entering the properties, until we have had a chance to deal with the dangers overhead. To reinforce the message, we have posted ‘No Trespassing’ signs.”

Cottage areas (more than 750 rental homes and cottages are located on GRCA property) that owners and renters might try to access were a priority as well. Most of the work requires bucket trucks and heavy equipment and experts accustomed to working in high, dangerous places.

“It can be difficult, and work that requires a fair amount of training and in some cases certification and equipment use. We appreciate what people are doing but it’s something we have to get our experts doing,” he said on Tuesday.

Schultz cites past incidents to drive his point home:

“Do an internet search for ‘killed by falling branch’ and check out the results: a baby in Central Park, a man cleaning up storm debris in Hawaii, a woman strolling through a park in London, a camper in Arizona. In 2004, a 10-year-old boy on a school outing was killed by a falling tree at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.”

While some parks and winter activities are open to the public – Shade’s Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge for ice fishing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing; Belwood Lake Conservation Area in Fergus for ice fishing; Laurel Creek Conservation Area in Waterloo for snowshoeing and skiing – the rest of the trails are currently closed according to updates on the GRCA website.

“In reality, it would be better to leave some of the non-emergency work until spring, when it can be done more quickly, efficiently and safely,” Schultz said.

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