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Volunteers participate in first effort to reclaim Lakeshore Beach

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
This year’s Healthy Parks, Healthy People day incorporated a clean-up at Lakeshore Beach within Sandbanks Provincial Park. While many local beaches remain smaller in size due to high water levels in Lake Ontario, Lakeshore Beach in the park has yet to open for the season.

Friday saw it temporarily open for two hours as volunteers cleaned-up the visibility-shrunken and debris-strewn beach in a first effort to reclaim it. The clean-up area focused on a small 400 metre stretch, while most of the 7.1 kilometre beach remained cordoned off.

Healthy Parks, Healthy People day is an annual event held on one day each summer where all day-use fees are waived at all Ontario provincial parks. Parks staff said it’s a way to get people involved in the park who don’t normally visit, as well as encouraging people to spend time in nature with its health benefits.

Robin Reilly, Ontario Parks Superintendent, explained that while Lake Ontario remains at a high level, Lakeshore Beach has been particularly hard hit because it is a little lower profile than some of the other beaches.

“Some of the other ones have more dunes and they are a little higher, so yes the water level goes up, but most of the beach is still there,” said Reilly. “This one is a little longer and narrower and flatter beach, so it doesn’t take much of a water level change to wash it out.”

The dunes at Lakeshore Beach showing signs of erosion.

He also noted the other reason for closing it has to do with the dunes themselves.

Of concern to Parks staff are not just the high water level and the significantly reduced beach, but the clear erosion of the dunes and vegetation. Barely 10 foot wide in places, the narrow strip of Lakeshore Beach – which is usually at least a couple of hundred feet wide – according to volunteers, clearly shows erosion damage to the dunes caused by the high water level, as well as wave and wind action.

“There are a lot of dunes that come right down to the water line and people naturally want to walk along the shoreline, but there are lots of places where the dunes have been eroded right to the edge of the shoreline,” Reilly said. “So people are invariably going to climb up the dune and that dune and the vegetation gets destroyed.”

Ontario Parks staff, with assistance from volunteers from Friends of Sandbanks, co-ordinated the event which saw about 35 members of the public pitch in, along with Friends of Sandbanks volunteers and Parks staff. Work gloves, latex gloves, rakes, sand sifters and garbage bags were all provided.

“Clean-up and looking after the environment is part of our mandate, so we are helping with this,” said John Brebner, a long-time volunteer with Friends of Sandbanks.

While much of the beach debris was of the natural kind, such as driftwood, logs and vegetation, some quite large in nature, other smaller, man-made objects were also collected.

Reilly said different parks do different kinds of events on Healthy Parks, Healthy People day and they thought cleaning up Lakeshore Beach would be a good event to have on this day.

“This is an organized clean-up of boards with nails, and needles that get washed up on shore and all kinds of nasty stuff, so we invite people to come out and help us do that,” he said.

He noted that most of the plastic is not from the park per se, but is plastic that is washed down somebody’s drain, ditch or from boats in Lake Ontario.

“When the water’s high, it washes up on the shore here,” he said.

Melinda Davis, with Hayden and Pierce, helped with the beach clean-up.

Melinda Davis was in Prince Edward County for the weekend from Toronto and brought two young helpers with her. Davis has land in Demorestville and said she loves coming here.

“It’s important to do this,” she said. With Hayden and Pierce, both age 12, slightly reluctant clean-up participants, Davis said it was important she brought them so they could learn about the beaches and how they must be cared for.

While Parks staff were not noting every item collected, they were recording data on those items found in large quantities, such as cigarillo tips and bottle tops.

Brebner said they also find balloon ribbons, not necessarily on the beach but inland. “Those are particularly bad as birds think they are a nice red worm and then they get stuck in their digestive tract.”

While the beach may temporarily be underwater, Brebner said the good news is the sand isn’t going anywhere.

“It’s being eroded from the beach and that’s bad news, but the good news is that it remains. If and when we have another low-water year, we are going to have some fantastic new sand beach.”

Brebner believes the real issue will be in storm season. “In September, October, November when we really get the waves, there will be further damage,” he said.

Among his volunteer duties with Friends of Sandbanks, Brebner has been providing a photographic record of what’s happening in the park, maintaining an archive since 2012.

“There are huge cottonwoods that have fallen in the water and that hasn’t happened in 80 years,” he said. “It is a concern, but it may well be that in 10 years from now we will be in a drought situation and it’s very difficult to plan ahead.”

Reilly said they have done plenty to get people to think about plastics and where they end up. There were examples on display of benches and a boardwalk made of recycled plastic.

“We have been trying to work with companies that make recycled plastic products just to create an end use for the plastic that is picked up,” said Reilly.

Today is about getting out on a nice day, getting some exercise, helping the environment, picking up plastics, supporting recycled products, and encouraging people to use alternative technologies he said.

The Friends of Sandbanks work within the park includes partnering with Ontario Parks to upgrade and develop recreational trails and boardwalks, produce educational and informative publications and trail guides, as well as tree planting. They have completed many worthwhile projects during their 26-year history.

Dedicated to protecting and preserving the natural and cultural history of the park system, Friends of Sandbanks is an incorporated, non-profit, charitable association run by volunteers. Members also host park events, support park programs, and operate a nature and gift shop within the park. And they always welcome new volunteers.

Lakeshore Beach will remain closed to the public for the time being, and is expected to open, at least in part, sometime in August once water levels have receded further.

“We are saying that until the water level drops low enough that you can actually walk continuously along the shoreline, we would just as soon not use it, and encourage people to use the other beaches in the park,” said Reilly.

He noted that it comes down to how quickly the lake water drops and said it’s not supposed to drop very much because Lake Superior and Lake Huron are both really high and any heavy rain will add to that.

He echoed Brebner’s worry that fall is typically when winds get stronger. “If the water doesn’t drop and the winds pick up, then it is chewing into the shoreline aggressively at that point.”

Reilly indicated how ice protects the shorelines. “In most years, you get a good ice shoreline,” he noted, “but Lake Erie is already finding winters without ice on the shore. Once there is no ice margin on the shoreline, then the dunes and the edges are much more susceptible to erosion.”

Ontario Parks has three further beach clean-up days scheduled for this summer at Outlet Beach on July 31, Aug. 14 and Aug. 28.

“The beach there [at Outlet] is very well kept because it is a Blue Flag beach, so they patrol and get the really big stuff off every day, but there is a lot of little stuff in the sand, things like cigarellos and plastic bottle caps,” said Breber. “So we go in with the little sand sifters.”


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  1. Mario says:

    Sure it’s sad for those that live there and saw it change over the years. But beaches and parks should be public … hey it’s 2019. Canada is a free Country last I checked.

  2. Emily says:

    I think the sugestion for County residents to take their grandchildren to the Park on weekends after 4:00 pm is a little lame and misses the residents real concerns.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    I heard on the radio today that the Sandbanks Park was closed to the public by 12 noon, for both Monday and Tuesday, due to being at capacity and on week days! Personally, I do not believe the Provicial government reimburses this community anywhere close to what we should be getting. Maybe it is time our council and us start pressing our MPP for a bigger cut of the pie – we sure deserve it!

  4. GKW says:

    Do you really think you are the only beach in Canada that attracts tourists. Time to get off the rock for a walkabout.

  5. Jim says:

    I don’t think you are right Gary.I went by the entrance to the sandbanks yesterday before noon and they had the sign up saying the parking lot was full

  6. angela says:

    I agree, Sue. We have become outsiders in our own county. Many of us avoid Picton in the summer choosing to shop elsewhere instead because it is full of tourists and there is nowhere to park. We used to take picnics and go to the beach but it is so overcrowded now that the pleasure in this is gone. Everyone is enjoying summer in the county except for those of us who live here. We should have remained Ontario’s best-kept secret.

  7. Gary Mooney says:

    Thanks to the many volunteers who participated in the beach cleanup, and to John Brebner for organizing this event.

    To Susan: It is sad if you’ve given up taking your family to one of the County beaches at Sandbanks, North Beach or Rotary Beach in Wellington because you don’t want to share it with visitors.

    There’s lots of room for everyone at Sandbanks and the closures are only on summer weekends, and only for noon to 4 pm, because of limited parking space.

  8. Susan says:

    Too many people on our beaches and some not respectful. Locals cannot even take their County children and grandchildren to the beach anymore because of overcrowding. We truly are a playground for others. It is sad.

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