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Sandbanks’ new park super says reservation system here to stay

– file photo Sandbanks Provincial Park

Sandbanks Provincial Park’s new park superintendent believes the day-use online reservation system is here to stay as it reduces traffic congestion, and is also easier on aging infrastructure.

At the invitation of Mayor Steve Ferguson, Curt Morris introduced himself to council at last week’s committee of the whole meeting where he outlined plans in a brief deputation for another busy summer season at the park. Morris took over the role from Robin Reilly, who retired, and noted he hopes to stay in the position until his retirement in the next seven or eight years.

The online day-use reservation system was introduced last year at Sandbanks and a few other parks, following the tourism chaos of 2020.

“It is here to stay and more parks have joined on with the program where you must have a reservation to arrive for a day-use for Sandbanks,” said Morris. “It’s been popular and it’s been helpful with traffic congestions.

“Last year was great, this year will be better – it already seems better,” said Morris. “I’ve heard from a couple of businesses very close who said it seems better controlled, access seems to be moving, flow is good.

“We are finding already this year that when we talk to visitors in the line-up, they not only have made a reservation, but many of them had it printed,” he said.

The advantage at Sandbanks is the bypass lane, Morris said. For those folks who print out their reservation and place it on the dashboard of their vehicle, they can simply use the bypass lane without having to engage with park staff.

RESERVATIONS AND TURNING PEOPLE AWAY

“We are finding it’s working; there are still a few kinks with it entering into our second year, but overall it’s working really well and I am very happy with what we’ve got.”

According to Morris, plenty of local residents, not just out-of-town visitors, use Sandbanks, as well as North Beach Provincial Park.

Councillor Mike Harper noting the “chaos” encountered at Sandbanks in 2020, and improvements felt last year, asked how many people were showing up unaware of the policies if where they are sending them when they are turned away.

Morris said about 100 vehicles were turned away last weekend, when the park was full to capacity.

“That is nowhere near the hundreds and hundreds we were turning away in 2020,” he said. “It is improving and I am glad to say that, but we do still turn away some and we still have to work on that.”

Morris said he would like to work with other tourism groups and local businesses in the County because he noted there are other places to go rather than the beach and he wants people to have the full County experience.

“It’s a terrible feeling to turn people away, especially when they have travelled here from the GTA, have three kids in the back of the car and they are all excited,” expressed Morris. “Park of the goal is not to send them back to the GTA, but to send them to other neat little parts of the County.”

It was noted that some of those visitors being turned away were not necessarily internet users and were therefore not receiving the social media updates the park puts out.

“There are still improvements for us to speak to that smaller group who are not on the internet and who don’t understand making internet reservations,” Morris said.

The number of visitors to Sandbanks Provincial Park is down a little so far this year, especially with Quebec visitors, according to Morris, something he said it could be associated to the high cost of gasoline.

“I would certainly not say our County interest is down; in fact, I would say it is probably up with what I read and what I see, and that is fantastic.”

USE IN NON-PEAK HOURS

Councillor Kate MacNaughton asked if there would ever be opportunities for restrictions to be lightened later on in the day when the parking lots empty out, or very early in the morning prior to the park filling up, for people who typically use the area in a casual way.

Morris explained that for people who make a reservation, their pass is good from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“We have a clientele at Sandbanks and North Beach who want to go in and experience the County life visiting wineries, restaurants, etc, and in many cases they want to come back to the park later in the day,” explained Morris.

He further explained that they have to be careful because they may sell 2,000 passes and be full to capacity, but people may see 50 empty spots in the parking lot because those people have left to visit a winery or a restaurant and plan to return to the park later in the day to watch the sunset, have an evening barbeque, etc.

“I have to make sure there is a spot for those folks that have booked that reservation because they are entitled to a parking spot from eight in the morning to 10 at night.”

He also said realistically, some people do leave and go home early, vacating their spot.

“We have use a bit of common sense here and if we take a 4 p.m sweep of the park and it looks like a great number of people have vacated, there is the feeling this year among staff that certainly if someone comes on a Wednesday night at seven o’clock to walk their dog for a half hour, that would be fine. If an enormous number of people have vacated to go back home, then I think common sense would say we should work with a person and get them a permit.”

USE OF TECHNOLOGY

Morris states as many of 70 per cent of people show up at the gate with their reservation on their smart phone.

Morris said the process for those people arriving at the gate with a reservation was to line up and wait to be scanned where they then receive a physical printed permit to display on the dashboard.

“We don’t have capability yet to ensure vehicles are registered,” explained Morris. “And because Sandbanks has so many access points and we do lay a lot of parking infractions, we do still need the printed permit.”

He said they are working on a new system using a “roving ranger” app, but noted when there is an internet glitch it can be problematic. He also noted the size and expanse of the park was a challenge.

“We will outfit officers with a cell phone with the roving ranger app, so if someone forgets to put their permit on their dash, they will be able to input the licence plate into the app which will tell them if the vehicle is registered online.”

“I think we are getting there, we are getting with technology; we are with visitation, we are getting with what the visitor wants,” added Morris. “The visitor wants to show up and basically park, unload and go to the beach, that’s what they want to do; they don’t want to wait in line at the gates.”

SHOULD SANDBANKS EXPAND CAPACITY?

Councillor Phil St-Jean spoke to the parking spaces at the park, noting there is far more capacity for humans than vehicles.

“Is there anything in future plans about expanding the parking capabilities to permit more people to enjoy the facilities?” asked St-Jean.

Morris noted that visitors don’t understand that when vehicle capacity is reached, why people (on foot) can’t be let in, where he cited aging infrastructure as the issue, as well as tile beds and weeping beds having limited capacity.

“Will we build more parking lots to get more people in? Currently the answer would be no, only because the current infrastructure can’t handle it,” Morris said.

He said they are looking at getting on the capital list with the province to improve infrastructure, build new tile beds, new comfort stations, new parking lots, etc. and only then can expanded capacity come, such as new camp sites.

“We are currently at a state right now where we have some capital where we have to invest in some of the infrastructure there right now, and I don’t think there will be any development of new camp site loops. We do having failing septic systems, and we may have to start there before we look long-term.”

PROTECTING THE PARK ENVIRONMENT

Morris did address concerns regarding overloading Sandbanks with more visitors by “jamming more people in”.

“From a protection standpoint, we have to be really, really careful,” stated Morris. “You look at our campsites and they seem to encroach on these very significant sensitive areas, so I’m not sure the answer is to put more people in one place.”

Morris said part of the mandate is to protect these places, where he noted grasses had been planted to protect the dunes, yet people still make slides to slide down the dunes.

“I would caution putting 2,000 cars in there, some days 2,500. Do we want to move to 3,000 or 5,000? From a protection standpoint, I’m not so sure,” Morris said.

WALK-INS & CYCLISTS

Councillor Ernie Margetson asked if there were restrictions to those walking and cycling into the park.

“One of the myths is that capacity only applies to vehicles, thankfully it doesn’t,” said Morris. “It isn’t a good situation because those folks are coming and flushing our toilets and using our infrastructure.”

“When we are full to capacity, we are full to capacity, so we are asking people walking in to consider not doing so.”

He said it is a difficult balance to manage hundreds of people walking in (without a reservation), because he said people get frustrated, noting it was not only an enormous pressure on enforcement staff, but also on infrastructure.

“On the Saturday of the Canada Day long weekend, there were spots were people’s towels were touching, that’s not my idea of a beach experience because we are ending up with people who are in arguments.”

“When we are full to capacity, that walk-in crowd is not doing us a great favour, and they are not contributing financially because walk-ins do not have to pay, but they are using all of our services, and its taxing.”

He encourages those who chose to walk-in or cycle into the park to ideally obtain a reservation in advance.

 

 

 

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  1. Teena says:

    Well stated, Willow. Thank you.

  2. WIllow says:

    I agree that the new Daily Vehicle Pass system is working to cut down on the huge vehicle line-ups of years past, to cut down on the total number of visitors and to reduce additional strain on the park infrastructure.

    The online day-use reservation system was introduced last year and each day after my park visit I was sent an email asking me to complete a short survey about my experience the day before. I estimate that I completed 20+ surveys. After completing maybe 5 or so I saved my comments into a separate file and then just did a copy/paste into each survey. Thank you to Ontario Parks for asking but no thanks for not acting upon simple suggestions.

    Specific to Sandbanks PP, there are locations such as Lakeshore Lodge where there is most often 95% parking available from morning until park closing. There is a very long driveway and a very large grass field that could be used for parking. The side-of-the-road parking by MacDonald’s Day Use is not always full to capacity. If the park staff were to cut the grass to the area directly across the road from it, day users could make use of the MacDonald, Lake View and Woodlands trails. There is no additional strain on the park infrastructure in these two areas as neither have been provided with as much as 1 single portable toilet. Lakeshore Lodge may have 2 picnic tables in the entire area, MacDonalds Day Use may have but just 1. When people are coming for the day and paying, at least have a good number of picnic tables to use at each location. LSL has a very beautiful expansive area for picnics but the paying public must sit on the grass or remember to bring along a chair or two.

    Superintendent Morris has stated they have used a bit of common sense where they take a 4:00pm sweep of the park and if an enormous number of people have vacated to go back home, then common sense would say park staff should work with a person and get them a permit. This is great if you staffed all 3 lanes of the Outlet main gate and the 2 lanes at the West Lake gate. Twice this year I have been in a lineup with only 1 lane open at the main gate with 1 attendant, 5 vehicles ahead and 8 or more vehicles waiting behind.

    I still firmly believe allowance still needs to be considered for access to some of the park areas during the day but especially for access after 4:00pm. It makes no sense to have areas within any Provincial Park having many open parking spots available during the day or early evening, and those living close by with a seasonal park pass, not being able to come into a park.

    I always purchase a Season Day Pass, but again, when Lakeshore Lodge or the MacDonald Day Use is practically empty, can I not just put my season pass on the dash and be permitted to park without the threat of getting a ticket anytime during the day? In addition to these 2 areas, most evenings there is plenty of parking at the Amphitheater parking lot. Will I get ticketed here also even though I show a Season Pass?

    “The advantage at Sandbanks is the bypass lane, Morris said. For those folks who print out their reservation and place it on the dashboard of their vehicle, they can simply use the bypass lane without having to engage with park staff.” Well here, Mr. Morris must be talking about County Rd 12 that goes past the main gate. In order to get to the “bypass lane” on busier days the visitor must battle with traffic backing up along County Roads 11 and 18 and the 4-way stop into the park. Consider that backlog and the park road to the main gate… sorry, not much of a bypass lane.

    Hate to say but often I reserve 5 day passes at a time not knowing if I will go to the park or not. I have to do this as I may not get a pass when I really want it. This is really not ethical as I am taking a reserved spot for someone that may really want to visit for the day. I know of others doing this also. Sorry people. if the park were to ease up on the later day access issue and allow me to use my season pass only in areas of little use (LSL) then I may not have to do this. But I also see this as helping to ease park infrastructure.

    Finally, we have to get a DVP even after Labour Day when the beaches and other park areas would never be to capacity. Why?

  3. IR says:

    The provincial park online day pass system works great! The park staff are awesome and helpful. As a ‘local’ I can guarantee a day at the beach anytime. Long weekends are busy so book a few days before. It takes as long to book a day pass as it does to leave a comment on this news site. A day at the beach in July does wonders for the soul!

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    No doubt some (maybe many) have made big bucks in the tourist trade – but this community as a whole has not benefitted from this fairly recently found wealth. Ask the people who live here full time, if you doubt what I write about. It has not helped those who really need the help either – affordable housing is still a huge issue, so are poverty. high taxes, high water rates, crumbling roads, school closures, over extended hospital services, low income families where people have to work at several jobs to make ends meet. There was a recent comment in The Times questioning the need to name one of our beaches after a service club? We also have arenas named after companies and service clubs – and even after a wealthy family! None of this is indicative of a wealthy community – rather it reflects a community that depends on handouts and charity because our local economy cannot support such facilities. You need to remember that any tourist tax goes only toward tourists services and not into the municipal general budget. Why is that? Because this is what the provincial government mandated – the rich taking care of the rich – not the community.

  5. SM says:

    In an October 2020 news release the Federal Government stated: “In Ontario, tourism and related industries account for $39.4 billion in GDP and directly and indirectly supports more than 820,000 jobs.” They went on to note that the County receives in excess of 650,000 visits per year.
    In 2012 the PEC economic report indicated tourist spending of $115.3 million. That same report noted tourism employment to be the second largest employer after health and social welfare.
    When those tourist dollars are spent in businesses in the County, wages are paid, further investments are made, raw materials are purchased. In other words, the local economy and the local community benefits.
    If you want a prime example of how a tourist based business benefits the community I suggest that you look at Huff Winery and the impact that LOCAL family has on the overall community.

  6. ADJ says:

    The MAT tax was introduced to help pay for ‘amenities”. Where the fund goes is up to Council I guess.

  7. Dennis Fox says:

    I believe the point that many people are making, not just on this site, but across The County is that tourists have overtaken every aspect of County life. Like it or not, locals have shown an ability to adapt, however the same cannot be said about tourists or about the businesses that attract them. Far too many tourists believe since they pay $500/night for a STA it means they don’t have to adapt or even be polite – they expect to be served. Sorry, but life does not work that way – not even here. As far as traffic goes – from Thursday to Sunday downtown Picton is a mess and the reservation system at Sandbanks doesn’t play a role in that – and why would it?

    I have asked this question many times over the past number of years – How does tourism benefit the majority of taxpayers in this community? I am still waiting to receive a reply that is factual. What we do know is that for those who pay for all the amenities that tourists seem to enjoy, they rarely have the opportunity to enjoy them too.

  8. Emily says:

    The County is so much more fun and exciting than when I grew up here in the 60’s. There is life and vivbrance. It’s healthy and positive.

  9. David Thomas says:

    I am more than a bit confused by some of the comments here from the same folks who complained BITTERLY about the traffic jams during the pandemic. The reservation system has solved this problem, yet now the lament is that reservations are needed to use “our” parks (even though Sandbanks is provincially funded, largely from people living in the GTA). What’s is going to be? Like it or not, time does not stand still. We all need to adapt.

  10. angela says:

    Few of the changes appeal to the locals Why would they? They robbed us of a way of life. Change may be inevitable but what has happened in the county is not for the better except for those who are profiting from it. Most of them are not locals they just followed the money here.

  11. Stephen says:

    Gary says:
    A lot of changes are appealing to locals.

    As a life time resident I sure cannot think of any.

  12. CountyProud says:

    What sort of experience are people having when the beach is so crowded their towels are touching. Maybe a rethink on the number of people and vehicles is required. The impact this is placing on the environment of the Sandbanks area is massive. Let’s not wait so long that it will be too late to save the natural beauty and senstive environment of the area. It should not just be about the dollars or the numbers.

  13. Gary says:

    Time doesn’t stand still. Change is inevitable. A lot of the changes are appealing to locals.

  14. Dennis Fox says:

    I moved to The County over 20 years ago and bought land here years before that. The things I fell in love with are rarely available for me to use – local beaches, quiet roads and the boat launches. For the first time since I retired, I am looking outside of the County for my next move – I hate seeing our paradise being paved over with development and tourism money making schemes that do not benefit the year round residents – only those who wanna make a buck like it this way. My question is – then what?

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