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Hwy 401 signs to help target tourists congesting the County during COVID

Bumper-to-bumper waiting to get inside Sandbanks Provincial Park.

With a view to stemming the tide of tourist traffic congesting roads in the County during the COVID-19 pandemic, seven signs are posted eastbound and westbound on Hwy 401 to alert visitors to the status of Sandbanks Provincial Park.

Mayor Steve Ferguson said Saturday that additional road signage has been rented for use at the entrance into the County on Highway 33 and County Road 49 but will not be in place until Monday.

At council last Tuesday, Ferguson noted the frustration people are having over large crowds converging on the County – specifically on weekends.

“Between being cooped up during the pandemic; still-closed amenities elsewhere that might attract many of those coming here; a closed Canada/US border; favourable weather; the Quebec construction holiday and the overall appeal of the County, visitors continue to arrive,” he said.

County CAO Marcia Wallace, who had prepared an update on lessons learned so far during the pandemic, confirmed to council last Tuesday the municipality is powerless to do anything that exceeds or works against actions or rules put in place by the province.

On his Facebook, Saturday, Mayor Ferguson said he and Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith have been working to address concerns.

Quinte Conservation closed Little Bluff Conservation area to traffic on Friday, following reports of overcrowding on the beach where people were not physical distancing, and non-permitted activities such as garbage dumping, campfires, and overnight camping.

“He in turn has been dealing with other ministries such as MECP and MOT to put in place measures to address our particular problem. In addition, council members are out and about dealing with local concerns in their wards.”

Ferguson said County staff have developed and launched plans to deal with some of the major concerns including communications.

“Our communications are now more centralized. If you are on social media you would have seen the beach info updates that were put out and are being circulated and shared by others.
We have better coordination with Sandbanks Provincial Park, and they now have a single point of contact at the County to let us know – in advance – when they are closing either North Beach or Sandbanks so we can be prepared to advise the public. Sandbanks and the Dunes Beach both closed at about 10:30 Saturday morning and our PSA was issued shortly thereafter.

“Because visitors are on their phones as they look for alternate beaches, we have prepared PSAs for different situations, and will be actively using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to direct people with the latest information as we learn of problems or closures.”

Ferguson said road signage is also up on either side of Wellington and will be activated once the Wellington Beach parking lot is full.

As council approved no parking rules for the County’s “secret” and informal water access points last week, the municipality’s operations department is posting signs to reflect the new bylaw, and that the no parking areas apply on Saturday, Sunday and statutory holidays only.

“There will be several no parking signs that reference the parking bylaws and clearly show the max fine of $400 – hopefully to act as a better visual deterrent. A large quantity of new signs will be in place in short order but placement will take some time. Staff will enforce parking now that a new bylaw is in place.”

In regard to crowd management, Ferguson said extra staff will be brought in as crowds begin to form, not after they have congregated, to politely explain closures, help people with alternatives, and redirect the traffic.

“We are in touch with the OPP and have worked out how and when we will call them for additional support, for instance when we have unruly people, when there is a dangerous situation and so on.”

In both Picton and Wellington (Belleville St.) staff are managing traffic on the weekend, collecting launch fees and providing gas (in Picton). Shifts cover the area from about 8 a.m. -6 p.m. Staff will be at these locations during the week for a few hours in the morning to help support visitor launchings.

Wellington Beach will staffed 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekend and collecting $20 for parking. At the Wellington Beach Boat Launch there will be 14 spots for trucks/trailers.

“The launch is accessible only to anyone with a season pass. There are parking spots at the launch, and once full we will redirect people to other boat launch locations.”

“We are all doing our best – staff, businesses, residents and council – to deal with unfolding events and circumstances,” said Ferguson. “Please understand and appreciate we all have roles to play and are undertaking them to the best of our ability. We’re still in a pandemic and public health and safety remain our top concern.”

At last Tuesday’s council meeting, Ferguson said the County remains in a state-of-emergency as are several of its neighbouring communities.

“Lifting the state of emergency might attract more people and greater risks, he said. “It would send the message that everything is fine in the County and people should just come on in. I don’t think that is the message we want to send – especially with the issues with crowds we had last weekend and expect to see again this weekend.”

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  1. Rob #2 says:

    Well I suspect that there IS some positive financial impact from the tourism. If there is a student at Giant Tiger or McDonald’s or a less well-known business working an extra 16 hours this long weekend that is money that they may not have had otherwise. Money that could turn around and re-enter the economy again.

    I will leave this thought with my rephrasing of the argument to the way I see it – that being that there is an influx of demand at local businesses that translates into more money in the pockets of the workers, who predominately are County residents. But the rephrasing would also definitely ask if this stimulation is worth the hassles incurred alongside, to me this is the crux of the whole argument. The hassles being the clogged up roads (particularly near the Sandbanks and in the County urban areas), the wear on the roads, the increased staffing needed to maintain some attempt at normalcy such as garbage collection and traffic/parking enforcement in the crowded areas, etc. Throw in the stresses of residents who need to get to work but have to fight through parades of cars headed to the Sandbanks. Those people should be screaming as loud as they can in Council’s ear. They see their lifestyle hindered.

    And let’s all realize that the decision has long been that a tourist economy is better than no economy at all. We have bben promoting the region as a tourist destination for over a decade. I always felt that this was selling ourselves short as a best case scenario and giving up at it’s worst. Relying on transient outsiders for our economic independence with no interest in looking at the negatives – which were readily fathomable to any forward-looking resident paying attention even before this whole bandwagon got to this point – is not always the best thing when you stop and add up the negatives.

    In short were we scolded that anything but complete submission to the tourism economy was wishing for the demise of our well-being as a region? I recall getting that vibe from numerous politicians and others with possibly a horse in this race. Maybe there is some validity to a strong tourist economy, but no one was ever allowed or able to argue it nor did we hear of ideas that could have been used to perhaps generate some more year-round economic benefit through business development. It was just hyped and hyped and before you know we are here.

    We do have the bulk of the popular attractions over here however, and that distinction is unfortunately causing more headaches than they’re worth. Most of the attractions are geographical in nature, and the people come from far away to experience them. We do not need to rent a fleet of gimmicky glass prisms and line our main street with them alongside picnic tables sitting broiling on asphalt completely umbrella-less. That particular venture is analogous to a cargo cult.

    Finally, I thank Dennis for his comments about roads. I have driven many of them as well and agree with his observations. I can’t understand the reason for the great difference this summer in what I see in my area in the lack of pothole repairs. These craters are generally dry now and repairs might compact and last a bit longer than the crew firing a shovel full of asphalt into a water filled hole on a cold rainy day in December. It’s one thing to swerve around these things, and avoid them by driving on the wrong side of Doxsee Road because it’s smoother, but driving on of these as a matter of getting in or out of your driveway must be a real kick. There are a couple of driveways on Black Road where the owner backs right out into these mammoth craters, and also a location where everyone is driving so close to the shoulder you buzz the owners mailbox to avoid the deteriorated mess in the middle of the road. These homeowners deserve smooth and maintained access to their property. Possibly vehicle repair bills should be sent to Shire Hall. Anyone who is in the mood for a drive, head the full length of Black Road and have a look.

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    Hello Rob #2 –

    You have hit the nail on the head when it comes to trying to stop this entourage of tourists and the increasing number of potholes. It sounds like you travel many of the same roads as I do. Since about mid April – just to break the boredom of being inside, I started travelling (every day) throughout the County – going on roads that I have never travelled , but mostly visiting areas that I haven’t seen in a long time. I average about 600 km/week. It is something that I encourage everyone to do – it sure makes you appreciate what we have here and what we need to protect. Unfortunately, it also supports your observation about the unrepaired pot holes – throughout the entire County! So far the worst roads I have travelled are Closson, Chase and Benway Roads – you need a military tank to survive them. Carter Rd is still a mystery to me – but an interesting one for sure.

    For me. I have waited and have communicated with Council for a number of years now about the very much needed repairs to the Northport boat launch and the speeding issue on County Rd 15. To date, I am now wondering why I am paying taxes? I take no comfort in seeing staff using their time to issue parking tickets or hiring more OPP and seeing tax dollars being spent now on 401 Highway signs to address a problem that our Council is very much responsible for – not just now but going back to the late 1990s. Every Council, including the current one ignored concerns expressed by the public about tourism. In the recent past, I have had current members of council try to tell me how much we as a community benefit from tourism and how much money we receive from it. When I ask for supporting documents, I never hear from them. I could go on, but I will leave you with this thought….

    It is not too late to take control of the tourism problem, but the public needs to speak up, contact your councillor, contact Shire Hall, write letter to our local press, etc… – make it an election issue and you will see all kinds of good ideas for controlling tourism come forward. This idea that we hear all too often form our politicians of there is nothing they can do is a bunch of @#%$$ ! I’m not opposed to a few thousand visitors on weekends, but can’t support 10 thousand or more every weekend – this is our home and we should have some say in what happens to it. We need to find the right people to stand on guard for us!

  3. Rob #2 says:

    It’s too late in my opinion to stop any of this now. If a virus that initially scared people wasn’t going to have a lasting effect through the summer and reduce the guests, nothing will.

    There will be more and more subdivisions and with them will come more fast food places, more retail and more traffic. The GTAers will find their first few winters eye opening, especially ones with lots of snow but will get used to it. We are getting what some asked for in a much larger dose. It was inevitable.

    Because at the heart of it is the reality that most people can only tolerate being in close proximity with large groups of people for so long. The longing is to get away to a quieter, slower paced area….which in turn marches toward the place they left as more people come. They see the best of our County in the summer, and decide that they want to be here all the time.

    And to speculate further on Dennis’ comment, are the staff assigned to the extra duties in Wellington and other areas from the roads department? Aside from Potter Road I swear there hasn’t been a pothole fixed in Sophiasburgh in months. Black Road, Doxsee Road and Fish Lake have had unfilled craters in them for weeks. Reallocation of workers I suspect is the reason for this? Those things used to be automatically fixed in a timely manner without needing to complain about them.

  4. angela says:

    The tourists are costing us a lot more than they are worth. It was a sad day for the county when it was discovered by them.

  5. Dennis Fox says:

    From highway signs to extra staff to monitor parking lots, boat launches and additional OPP – who is paying for all of this? I bet it is not the tourists nor the tourist industry in PEC. As a taxpayer, I would like to know how many tax dollars are used for these initiatives?

  6. kb says:

    No space left here.
    The mayor and council appear to be taking this and other issues seriously, addressing concerns head on. It won’t be easy but at least they aren’t ignoring the issues laid in front of them. I commend them for tackling these tough challenges. We need their focus and commitment – looks like we got it.

  7. David Terry says:

    There are lots of great comments here by people who care about the County a great deal. I will also continue to fill bags of garbage at my time and expense to keep this place looking good.

    The issue of cost of living for families is one of the core practical issues resulting from very few stable jobs, massive housing prices and the cost of child care/location of schools. The school board went through an exercise to close and consolidate a number of schools a few years ago and the suggestion is that there are more coming.

    At what point would you honestly start considering another place to raise your family?

    The lifestyle in the county used to justify the cost, but that math is looking worse all the time.

  8. MissP says:

    I’m pleased to see that the Mayor and Council are trying to do something. This situation did not crop up overnight nor will it be solved overnight but action is required now.

    I have found it interesting to read comments on Twitter on Sandbanks posts about the park being filled or nearly filled to capacity (at 10am). The comments suggest Toronto folks should be able to reserve a spot because driving for 3 hours to find they can’t get in is unfair. These are however the same people who clearly are ignoring the Twitter posts put out and the huge signs on the 401 with the Park situation posted – clearly. Guess they feel this information does not apply to them.

    Building homes on every piece of vacant ground we have makes no sense, nor does increasing tourist accommodations like cottage and trailer parks. Our roads cannot sustain the current level of traffic and abuse from the influx of visitor nor can our environment.

    While litter is not confined to visitors it has increased in lockstep with the number and quality of visitors coming to our home. Add to this fireworks displays going off at all hours any night someone feels like it and on very dry ground or shorelines and that litter is left behind as well.

    Serious action is required for a longer term strategy as well as these proposes interim measures.

  9. Marie Powell says:

    Council needs to do some reading on “overtourism” and recognize the damage that it causes to communities, to nature and wildlife, to historical sites, and to the overall quality of life for its taxpaying residents. I’m a lifelong resident who is tired of residents’ rights being overrun for the sake of tourism.

  10. Dan says:

    May I suggest placing these signs on the Don Valley Parkway and 401 at Brockville? Maybe people would have time to make a different plan before they have their blinker on to get off the highway?

    Lived here all my life folks… cat is out of the bag now. Ask folks who live in Muskoka or Parry Sound how it’s working for them. It’s always locals who get left behind.

  11. Trevor Collier says:

    I agree with Dennis. Especially this year, the County seems to be struggling to deal with the negative effects of tourism without any “grand plan” based on an agreed understanding about what “living in the County” should mean. It boils down to whether we want the County to be a playground for visitors from southern Ontario and Quebec, or a real community where residents can enjoy living. For goodness sake stop the insane publicity of the County that the business community and our own Shire Hall encourage.We need some time to catch our breath and figure what we want to be.

  12. JennyD says:

    What happens when the subdivisions are all sold out and those “new residents” are looking for a place to enjoy the sun and water? Curtis St, Pineridge and more recently Sandy Hook Rd – just to name a few.
    Please, please, please, stop selling the county!! We are all filled up and there is no room left at the inn!! The current situation is simply not manageable.

  13. Cheryl Anderson says:

    As I motored past the airport Saturday morning about 7 am I noticed a car and tent on the parking area just across the road. An individual was emerging from the tent as I passed. My thought was – I wonder where he is going to go to the “washroom”. Interesting, people seem to be just putting themselves down wherever they arrive with no thought to whether it is an appropriate camping place – or not!

  14. Dennis Fox says:

    It took a pandemic for our Municipality to finally recognize that too many tourists have been attracted to PEC. I find it meaningful that the same people who told me a year or so ago of how much PEC benefits from tourists and how much money the “Shire” makes from them, are now trying to stop them from coming here. As I have suggested on a number of occasions – it is time for our Council to consult with the entire community about what kind of community we want. Consulting with our MPP and the OPP and putting up highway signs is just dandy – but it solves nothing! Next weekend will be the same, and the one after that, and…..

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