Conservation Authorities provide respite from pandemic, but “Know Before You Go”

March 25, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Rob Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As the weather continues to get warmer and people hit the outdoors to take advantage of the beauty in the community, conservation areas are poised to be a hot spot this spring and summer.

Despite the impact of COVID-19 over the last year, conservation areas have been one of the places relatively unscathed due to their natural space for activities.

As the country continues to deal with the impact of the pandemic heading into spring and summer — if the winter months were an indication of what’s to come — conservation areas are expecting a big year.

Throughout the winter, conservation areas remained open with health and safety protocols in place to offer patrons the best experience they could, given the circumstances.

“This winter was busy with higher-than-normal visitation trends continuing,” said Credit Valley Conservation’s Jamie Williams. “We implemented a reservation system for some winter activities to manage capacity limits and ensure physical distancing rules were followed. For example, we had multiple skating surfaces at Terra Cotta and Island Lake Conservation Areas that were reservable. This allowed people to get out and enjoy some much-needed time outside in a safe manner. We had days where we reached our capacity limits and had to turn people away.”

Now that the winter is in the rearview mirror, conservation areas are prepping for the spring and summer with a continued focus on health and safety and encouraging people to remain patient and check park website or social media, plan ahead, and make a backup plan before heading to the parks.

“We’ll continue to follow measures we implemented at the parks last year,” Williams said. “Visitor capacity limits are in place at the parks to help keep everyone safe and to ensure we’re meeting public health guidelines and restrictions. Physical distancing rules are in place to limit the number of people in buildings and restrooms. We’ll limit the number of watercrafts at the dock and shoreline at one time, at both Island Lake and Ken Whillans.

“We have signs posted to address rule changes and provide reminders to the public about physical distancing and safety. Visitors can purchase their admission tickets electronically, this is a safety measure to reduce touchpoints for visitors and staff. We’ve increased our cleaning schedules in the common areas of the park, such as the washrooms, to ensure surfaces are frequently sanitized. Guidelines are available on each parks page on our website, we’ve updated our park advisories page and social media to keep visitors up to date on changes. We’re encouraging visitors to ‘Know Before You Go’ to a park.”

The COVID-19 protocols that must be followed this spring and summer by people heading to conservation areas remain the same until further notice.

“We’re asking visitors to limit group sizes in accordance with public health guidelines and restrictions for the area where the park is located,” said Williams. “Visitors should check restrictions for each park before they leave home. If you cannot keep two metres — six feet — apart, you must wear a mask. Stay on trails, stepping off only to allow others to pass and yield to oncoming trail users when crossing bridges and boardwalks and do not trespass on private property next to CVC trails. Respect the instructions provided by our dedicated staff and plan your trip accordingly and bring your own hand sanitizer, as some parks have no hand-washing facilities available. Some outdoor amenities, such as wooden picnic tables, cannot be disinfected due to their surface—we ask people to consider using a tablecloth to cover these surfaces and reduce touch points. Limit visits to one hour or less to ensure everyone can enjoy an experience in nature.”

There will also be new online reservation options implemented this year at the conservation areas to ensure the process is more efficient.

“New this year visitors will have the option to reserve parking through our online system for peak visitation times—weekends only,” he said. “This will help everyone plan ahead and ensure they aren’t disappointed when they arrive at the park. We will have reservations available at Island Lake Conservation Area for electric boats. Some canoes, kayaks and paddleboards will also be available for reservation. We will also have some equipment available on a first come, first serve basis at Island Lake and Ken Whillans.”

Despite the pandemic, there’s no expectation to see less traffic at conservation areas this spring and summer, if anything, an increase is expected.

“We’ve experienced a 70 per cent increase in visitation across our system of parks and conservation areas since the beginning of the pandemic,” Williams said. “We expect this trend to continue into the spring and summer seasons. That’s why we’re encouraging everyone to ‘Know Before You Go’ to one of our parks and to check our website and follow us on social media for status updates on our parks.”

The pandemic shouldn’t impact any conservation area goers experience as long as they ensure they’re following health and safety protocols.

“We expect people to continue to enjoy many of the activities they have always enjoyed at our parks,” said Williams. “The trails will be open for responsible trail-use, birding, dog walking, cycling, and general nature appreciation. Visitors can enjoy water activities at Island Lake and Ken Whillans including canoeing and kayaking, boating, paddle boarding and fishing.”

For more information on the parks and their COVID-19 restrictions, visit Credit Valley Conservation’s website

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