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Some GRCA location to remain open for winter access

Along with the hospitality industry, the recreation sector was hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the associated restrictions and lockdowns. With gyms and other fitness centres closed, many people working from home or furloughed took to the great outdoors – hiking, for instance, provides a safer outlet, even if the weather is not as cooperative as in the spring and summer.

With that in mind, the Grand River Conservation Authority has tried to limit the shutdown of its parks through the months since the pandemic struck last March.

In the current lockdown, the province deemed outdoor recreation centres as essential, allowing them to remain open. The GRCA continues to operate six of its locations: Belwood Lake, Guelph Lake, Laurel Creek, Pinehurst Lake, Rockwood and Shade’s Mills. All of the GRCA’s indoor conservation sites remain closed for the foreseeable future. Trails also remain open, but winter maintenance is currently paused.

Winter activities such as cross-country skiing remain an option, but are weather dependent. The GRCA offers cross-country skiing and snoweshoeing at Laurel Creek, Pinehurst Lake and Shade’s Mills conservation areas when conditions allow, but due to limited snowfall, conditions are not yet suitable for some of these activities, the agency said in a release.

Like all operations, there have been some changes to the GRCA’s winter season, including no rentals this time around and limited capacity at parks to ensure social distancing levels remain possible.

The team at the GRCA is also turning to the public, asking them to respect social distancing among other public health measures that exist, said GRCA spokesperson Lisa Stocco.

“The health, safety and well-being of our staff and the community remain our highest priority. We have developed many new standard operating procedures since March of last year in order to comply with public health measures and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. These have included new touchless payment options, as well as limiting the number of daily visitors in our parks to address overcrowding and promote physical distancing,” she said in an email.

“To help people plan their visits, we developed a park status webpage, where visitors could see whether a park was at or close to capacity. We are in the process of improving this page to provide more information to visitors and hope to launch it in the near future. In some cases, we have not been able to offer the services we usually provide. For example, this winter, we are not able to offer equipment rentals for snowshoeing and skiing, as we are not able to do so safely (i.e. we do not have the resources needed to ensure appropriate disinfection of rental equipment.”

Stocco notes that general adherence to the rules have been positive. The parks encourage people to come out, but as capacity permits.

“Visitors should be aware that parking and winter maintenance is limited,” she said, noting the GRCA also asks visitors to not litter and to take garbage home with them.

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