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County, Sandbanks present plans to tackle troublesome tourist season

By Sharon Harrison
Just ahead of the Victoria Day long weekend, the municipality shared details of how it is intending to manage an expected busy summer season in the County were shared in detail at a public information online session Tuesday evening.

The Tourism Management Plan covered six identified key problem areas: boat launches, parking and bylaws and enforcement, Wellington beach, garbage, washrooms and parks, communications and visitor services. The session also included an update from Robin Reilly, superintendent with Sandbanks Provincial Park.

The idea is the plan, developed by staff over the past seven months, will help better prepare the municipality, residents and tourists for the upcoming peak summer tourism season.

The cost to implement the plan is estimated at $642,320.

“The majority of that cost is being covered by revenue from the Municipal Accommodations Tax,” said Rebecca Lamb, destination and development marketing coordinator. “The portion covered by the MAT that we have slated is $390,320.”

The balance is to be covered by user fees, fines and a small amount of advertising revenue.

Lamb explained the MAT is a tax charged to visitors when they book roofed accommodations, such as hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals.

“It is not a tax on residents, it is not paid by residents; MAT is strictly regulated by provincial legislation which says it must be used for destination marketing or for investments that support tourism development in the County, specifically. This plan does not affect the resident tax base.”

Also just launched is the County’s new Summer Hub website designed to help residents and ratepayers navigate the Tourism Management Plan. The site contains a variety of resources and information and is designed to be a one-stop shop with sections such as a ‘who to call’ section, a parking guide, a section on Wellington beach, and so on.

“We saw tourist levels reach unprecedented levels in 2020, resulting in an influx of visitors,” said Mark Kerr, communications and consultation supervisor. “We heard from residents and businesses about the challenges that this unprecedented situation created.”

Some of the more common challenges noted were excessive traffic volume, illegal parking, illegal camping, excessive garbage and littering, various safety concerns and general overcrowding.

The plan is expected to have a phased implementation where enhanced resources will be matched with the ramp-up of visitors, with full implementation for the peak tourist season.

Enhanced staff is set to begin May 21 across most areas, with staffing levels peaking in July and August.

New fees and fines will be implemented May 26, or later.

Reilly noted that at this time last year Sandbanks park was closed at the beginning of the season due to COVID-19, yet by the end of the season, the park had logged a record number of visitors.

“There was tremendous growth in July and August, and even into September and October,” said Reilly. “There were a number of traffic congestion issues around that volume of people that raised numerous problems for residents and park staff.”

Sandbanks was closed down entirely 12 times last year for a period of four-eight hours; another five times, portions of the park had to be closed due to the volume of people making it unmanageable.

Reilly says small improvements have been made at the three provincial parks in Prince Edward County (Sandbanks, North Beach and Lake on the Mountain) in anticipation of the coming busy year.

The parking lot at Lake on the Mountain has been fixed up, resurfaced and enlarged slightly. They are also looking at restoring parts of the deck; there will be increased staff, and increased cleaning at the washrooms.

“We were also, for the first time, trying to initiate a pay and display system for a low fee,” said Reilly.

There are no fees Monday to Thursday, but on weekends there will be a fee of $3 for two hours of parking at Lake on the Mountain.

Reilly said North Beach Provincial Park saw the greatest increase in visitation last year of any park in southern Ontario.

“This year, we have increased the staff level at North Beach by about a third; we have made some improvements to the food services and the parking.”

He noted an electronic sign will be set up at the junction of Highway 33 to provide messaging when the park is full.

At Sandbanks, some fencing and gates have been installed to help control walk-in traffic, and more staff have been added.

“We have also expanded our trail system through the fall and last winter and there has been a huge increase in people hiking through the park,” Reilly said. “The intent of that is to offer other things for people to do than just the beach experience.”

Addressing Wellington beach, Julianne Snepsts, communications co-ordinator, noted a number of changes will be implemented at the beach this summer to help with crowding.

“The biggest change is there will be an admission fee for Wellington beach on Saturdays, Sunday and holidays in the summer, between the hours of 9am-5pm.”

Residents and ratepayers of the County are eligible to obtain a Wellington beach day pass which will allow access to the beach on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at no cost. Passes are available at Shire Hall (once the lockdown lifts) as well as library branches (pick-up only during lockdown) from May 21.
Proof of residence will be required to obtain a pass, such as a driver’s licence, utility bill, rental agreement, etc.

There is no advance booking at Wellington beach, it is a first-come, first-served situation, where a maximum of 350 people will be permitted. A portion of that number will be reserved for residents.

The entry fee for the beach will be implemented starting May 29, however, capacity will be managed on the Victoria Day long weekend and the gate will be managed by staff.

“A temporary zone change will allow County-sanctioned food trucks to operate at the beach to provide more amenities, some food and drink for beach goers,” said Snepsts.

She noted also that the bulk water hauling station will be moved from the beach to the Wellington and District Community Centre to help reduce traffic and improve safety on the beach.

“The community boat launch that is located on Beach Street at the Wellington beach, the hours for that launch will be limited on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, it will be closed between 9 a.m.-5p.m,” explained Snepsts. “You can put a boat into before nine o’clock or after five o’clock, and you can bring your boat out at anytime, but no new boats can be launched between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.”

There will be specific parking areas for boaters by the boat launch.

With boat launches generally, Karen Palmer, destination and development marketing coordinator said one change will be that boaters will now pay for parking rather than for launching, and this will be achieved through the Mackay parking pay app available on smart phones.

Palmer said two paddle docks will be installed in June to help people using canoes or kayaks at two boat launches. The Belleville Street boat launch will be closed for the 2021 season due to safety issues and traffic disruptions.

Up until May 26, launch fees are $20 using the cash box. A season pass purchased before May 26 will cost $85. After May 26, the system will transition to a pay to park system using the Mackay pay app. The season pass after May 26 will be $50 for residents and $100 non-residents. The cost to park with a trailer is $20, and $10 if vehicles bring in a canoe or kayak, something that doesn’t requires a trailer.

She said there will be additional help in the form of bylaw and parking enforcement this summer.

“They will be working every day of the week from May to October, from 7 a.m.-9 p.m.,” said Lamb.

She confirmed the two-hour parking limit in Wellington will be strictly enforced.

“We have expanded the seasonal no-parking zones to 12 areas across the County,” Palmer said, noting residents should watch out for them because fines are heavy at $400.

The illegal camping bylaw fine has increased from $80 to $500.

There are 30 public washroom locations across the County and the cleaning of those facilities will happen up to three times a day in the busy, heavy traffic areas.

There will also be an increased number of garbage bins and garbage maintenance scheduled.

“There are no open flame or charcoal barbeques permitted in parks, propane is permitted,” said Lamb.

The municipality is working with two agencies, Alphabet Creative and Beattie Tartan, to help focus on visitor services campaign for those looking to plan a trip to Prince Edward County.

“The idea is visitors plan ahead and don’t feel disappointed about not being able to access amenities or waiting in long lines,” said Lamb.

The information session is available for viewing on the County’s YouTube channel. The Summer Hub website is now live at Click here for more information on the Tourism Management Plan.

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  1. CountyProud says:

    So, I wonder if over this long weekend park staff might ask for the driver’s license to verify where the individual lives and turn back those who clearly are here from outside the region (as per the Provincial lockdown stay at home order). Unless someone can show proof they have a seasonal residence here, they should not be granted access even for day use. This is Provincial Park and those are the current provincial rules so why is there not enforcement.

  2. Dee says:

    Great analysis County Proud. Agree with points made by Don and Eric. This plan has been designed to embrace and encourage more tourism, concentrating on the Village of Wellington and ignoring the major concerns expressed by the public in the survey. Sandbanks area. Obviously picking the low hanging fruit ( parking #6 on the survey priorities) was a quick and easy fix, but there is still no indication of any (negotiated response) from the Ontario Government or Ontario Parks, Our Mayor and Council have told us they “are in conversations with” for months. Todd Smith has indicated same. If there is no traction, be transparent about it. Show us a plan that considers your rate payers, not just visitors.

  3. olmnofthemtn says:

    Council has restricted parking on both sides of the road from the Glenora church to 2 home lots after the park. While the park slightly increased its parking but now charges for it. This area has few residents other than the resort. Most of LOM residents were not consulted ! We hoped to restrict parking along the deep ditch narrow shoulder of the right side of County Rd 7 past the park.

    We will have to endure the overflow of traffic on either side of the restricted zone and all the safety concerns that come with it.
    On County FM the mayor was queried about how its tourism plan addressed parking issues at Sandbanks, North Beach and LOM. LOM was not addressed and neither is it addressed in the preceding report.

    LOM has a very long history of Hospitality which included a great canteen and outside dancing under coloured lights and a view of the stars. It also offered accommodation. This included the viewing of the bay and lake. All generated vehicular and pedestrian traffic which used roadside parking.

  4. CountyProud says:

    I went back and looked at the Survey Summary for the Tourism Management Plan that was attached to the Jan 28 2021 meeting when it was first presented.
    The top five issues were:
    -excessive traffic (77.60% )
    -lack of access to Provincial Parks (55.21%)
    – excessive garbage or litter (54.82%)
    -inappropriate or rude guests (46.12%)
    -trespassing on private (34.22%)
    Parking was next at number 6

    Almost 40% said these were issues BEFORE Covid and 54% said they were HEIGHTENED by Covid

    Just over 64% said that they were inconvenienced by tourism challenges and almost 52% said that their quality of life was diminished by tourism.

    71% identified the SANDBANKS AREA as the NUMBER ONE hot spot for tourism issues (Picton Main St was the next highest at 55%)

    At the Jan meeting Mayor Ferguson stated that “The elephant in the room, is what movement forward the provincial government will share to alleviate concerns with over-tourism and vehicle line-ups at the County’s provincial parks”.

    So I’m really struggling to see how these top issues in the key hot spots are even remotely being addressed.

    A comment on another post about this topic, sums it up nicely (thank you Mr. Fox)
    “I don’t believe residents’ concerns were the focus of this “Tourists Plan” and they should have been. Instead, the Plan focused on how to make things easier for the tourists – from a Hub website to bilingual signage – with the hope of covering the costs.”

  5. Eric says:

    So 642,000$ of money that would otherwise contribute to taxpayer’s priorities will be spent on a program to encourage people to plan ahead? And there is also very little enforcement capacity through the county or Ontario Parks…. Not to mention serious delays in collecting MAT by the county as described in several reports to staff.

    This program tries to solve a problem that does not exist. The issue is not whether people can plan ahead. The problem is that there is no coordinated plan to address the sustainability of the county for families, farmers and people who live here permanently while allowing for development and new businesses. “Maintaining rural charm” does nothing to acknowledge the substantive economic base that makes the county work, I am sorry folks. Your new corporate and strategic plan has already been overrun by your lack of acknowledgment of what locals need from their government.

    I am really worried for this place.

  6. CountyProud says:

    So Sandbanks is open now for day use (free remember Monday to Thursday) but you are not to visit from outside the area. Let’s see how that works out this first long weekend of the year.

    There was lots to chew on in that meeting so let’s see what works and what does not. I can only hope that if things are not working or out of control the Municipality has a plan B to put into action.

  7. Don says:

    The photo at the head of the story on managing tourist problems shows the terrible traffic back-up caused by people waiting for entry into Sandbanks. This was probably the most visible issue we had last summer. Unfortunately, the pandemic has not gone away and we should expect similar crowds and traffic in 2021 but there is no indication in the story that this problem has been addressed. Fixing up the parking lot at North Beach and regulating the boat launch in Wellington are good things but the elephant in the County is the excessive crowds going to Sandbanks. These folks are blocking roads to residents’ homes, restricting access for emergency vehicles, and leaving behind lots of litter but I do not see what the County and Sandbanks staff are planning to do about that. Are there plans that just did not get into this story or are we going to endure another summer of mayhem?

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