Already prone to conflicts between visitors and nearby homeowners, the area around the West Montrose covered bridge has been especially busy during the pandemic.
With limited parking, few amenities and no real public access to the river (some people, for instance, routinely trespass on private property to launch their canoes), the bridge area is a victim of its own popularity.
Now, the township has reached a deal with the nearby West Montrose Family Camp to provide an access point for canoeists and kayaks entering and exiting the Grand River without trespassing on private property. All of the properties between the Line 86 bridge and the covered bridge are privately owned, except for a small road allowed between the campground and the regional road bridge.
A deal with the camp allows access, with the township planning to install signage that will direct visitors accordingly to avoid conflicts with landowners, economic development and tourism officer Jenna Morris told Woolwich councillors meeting Tuesday night.
“Since the pandemic, outdoor activities have soared in popularity. Installing appropriate signage will benefit the Corporation of the Township of Woolwich for the foreseeable future. The return on investment will come in the form of increased tourism, which will then support Woolwich businesses. Further, it will lead to increased pride of place and, finally, appropriate signage will redirect trespassers to the official river access point and off private land,” she said in a report to council.
The project will include the development of a new river access location, purchasing and installing appropriate wayfinding signage, as well as marketing and communications to inform locals, visitors, and industry of the new site, Morris noted.
The work is being funded with a $10,000 grant from the regional tourism organization, with Woolwich contributing $5,000 from its share of an accommodation tax.
Coun. Patrick Merlihan asked if the township was looking at a permanent solution, perhaps acquiring land near the bridge, but Morris said the agreement with the campground is the long-term solution.
The West Montrose Family Camp has agreed to allow paddlers free access to the river from its property, but is looking at perhaps charging a small fee for parking. There is also an opportunity to promote some of its day camp programs and the like, said Morris of the upside for the camping operation.