It’s not been a banner winter for outdoor skating, but it’s been cold enough of late for lakes and ponds in the area to ice over. The Grand River Conservation Authority, however, is still warning people to stay off the ice at its properties, including the Wellesley pond. That’s got some village residents upset, and they’ve taken to social media to vent.
“I am very disappointed to see the township put up ‘absolutely no skating or hockey’ signs around the township ponds today. Winter skating on the ponds is something that’s a big part of winter for many kids in small towns. Kids love it. It’s something they look forward to all year. It brings them closer. It takes them away from the screens,” wrote Facebook user Luke Piasecki in a post January 28. “If the township was worried about liability a ‘use at your own risk’ sign would have been better. The current knee jerk reaction seems analogous to closing summer beaches in fear of someone drowning.”
The use of the pond is purview of the GRCA, which doesn’t allow skating at its sites, says spokesman Cam Linwood.
“Ice skating is not permitted on any GRCA property. The GRCA is not resourced to monitor ice conditions or maintain ice surfaces for skating on our local waterbodies. We do monitor ice conditions, for the purpose of ice fishing only, at Belwood Lake, Shade’s Mills and Guelph Lake conservation areas,” he said in a statement.
In the case of the Wellesley pond, the conditions there heighten the safety concerns, he added.
“The surface of active water management reservoirs, like Wellesley reservoir, have ice surfaces that are prone to cracking and instability due to intermittent fluctuations in water levels. Further to this, many GRCA owned and managed waterbodies are affected by water flowing through them, natural groundwater springs, as well as road salt and other contaminants which all affect the quality and thickness of ice surfaces,” Linwood explained.
Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak said the township typically receives concerns and complaints about the pond. Where skating is concerned, he said there are issues with the safety of the ice.
“It’s probably improved significantly now, but early on, when the ice was still first forming, there was quite a bit of open water, especially around the dam. And then also by the bridge on Queen’s Bush Road, you could see open water there. So, in my opinion, and the opinion of others, there’s a lot of areas in there that are unsafe,” he said. “And one of the problems is, especially when you get a warm session, there’s a runoff that flows, water constantly moving underneath that ice. It’s like a small creek that can get larger, and with a runoff it can affect the quality of the ice. So that was the first noticeable concern.”
Beyond the ice safety, Nowak said there are concerns about the maintenance of social distancing and other public health regulations related to the pandemic.
“The first time I looked at it, I bet you there was 100-250 people on that pod. And a lot of young folks playing hockey and playing scrub hockey, certainly not following social distance rules and that sort of stuff. At that time, [the limit on people gathering] was 10. That was before the lockdown.”
Given that the pond is GRCA property, that agency makes the rules and is responsible for enforcement. In terms of social distancing, bylaw officers and police have been at the pond providing education to those not following public health guidelines rather than issuing tickets, but that could change. Paramedics have also been out to the pond, expressing concerns to Nowak about the potential for having to do a water rescue.
“Having said all that, people have been ice skating on that pond for 75 years, or maybe longer, and I’m not aware of any serious incidents. So, really, what I’ve tried to do is make people aware that there are areas that are unsafe, and that they should be mindful of those areas,” Nowak said, calling on people to exercise their best judgment.