Large numbers of visitors, many of them not abiding by provincial regulations aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, have prompted the GRCA to close some its recently reopened conservation areas.
Grand River Conservation Authority parks at Belwood Lake, Elora Gorge, Guelph Lake and Rockwood were closed again Tuesday, and will reopen again on June 15.
Beyond people not respecting area closures, congregating in large groups and not practicing appropriate physical distancing measures, a considerable amount of garbage and other waste is being left throughout the parks and natural areas, the agency said in a statement announcing the temporary closures.
“Given the limited staff that the GRCA currently has in place, and the work we need to complete in order to prepare our conservation areas for additional activities, we are temporarily closing the parks where we’ve had the most significant challenges,” said manager of conservation areas Pam Walther-Mabee in a release. “We are taking this action so that our staff can focus on completing this work, rather than managing capacity and enforcement issues.”
Conservation areas where there have not been as many issues – Brant, Byng Island, Conestogo Lake, Laurel Creek, Pinehurst Lake and Shade’s Mills, along with the Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area – are not part of the temporary closure.
In Bloomingdale, the Snyder’s Flats park is open, but the township and neighbouring property owners continue to report issues with trespassing and illegal parking.
“The GRCA property is open and things were acceptable until last week when the road was closed for a good portion of the week by the church and forced parking farther east on the road towards Sawmill Road. The road was re-opened Friday and we are waiting to see how things ‘normalize’ this week. Enforcement is keeping an eye on it,” said Woolwich clerk Val Hummel.
Ward 3 Coun. Larry Shantz, who lives in Bloomingdale, said parking remains an issue at the site.
“I was back there a couple of hours ago and there were 30 vehicles parked all along the road with the majority right at the very end by the GRCA property,” he said Monday. “It is signed no parking but continues to be ignored. There were also five cars parked in the church parking lot that I’m sure were not employees.”
The longstanding issues at the park recently came on the township’s radar when concerns were raised by Rockway Holdings Limited, which owns land at 1236 and 1277 Snyder’s Flats Rd., operating a gravel pit on the northern side. The company had noticed that people continue to flock to the site when it was closed through much of the spring, trespassing on its property in doing do.
Rockway is proposing the permanent closure of the Snyder’s Flats Road west of the Bloomingdale Mennonite Church, noting it’s interested in a land swap with the GRCA that would include a new driveway into the conservation area. Under that plan, Rockway would buy the closed portion of Snyder’s Flats Road from the township, effectively joining its properties on either side of the roadway.
For now, the company has requested ticketing authority from the township, a matter expected to be brought before council when it meets on June 16, said Hummel.
Stepped-up enforcement of illegal parking is likely.
“This has been a destination for decades and it seemed acceptable to park there. As you know it’s a heavily used area. I’m not sure if the no parking signs were installed at the same time as the fence on Rockway Holdings’ property was installed, but now the rules are different and are being enforced,” said Shantz.
Beyond parking, he added that visitors to the area have been leaving behind trash, with receptacles overflowing, as the GRCA is not collecting garbage at its sites. He suggested those using the park take their trash, including dog waste, home with them, as per GRCA guidelines.