Individuals have embraced Ontario’s parks through the pandemic, however are they loving them to dying? | CBC Information

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Chris Lemieux would not like crowds and it is why he’ll keep away from visits to provincial parks in southern Ontario throughout July and August.

He is watched the development of individuals flocking to Ontario Parks and Parks Canada websites lately, significantly through the COVID-19 pandemic, as they had been trying for enjoyable methods to get out of the home, and well being officers had been telling them being outdoor is safer.

“Nature has substantial well being and well-being advantages. So contact with nature inside protected areas can present leisure, rejuvenation, stress reduction, issues like that,” Lemieux, an affiliate professor at Wilfrid Laurier College in Waterloo, Ont., mentioned in an interview. He’s additionally the John McMurry Analysis Chair in Environmental Geography and director of the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas.

Lemieux famous a Nature Conservancy of Canada survey launched earlier this yr discovered 94 per cent of respondents mentioned time spent in nature helped them relieve stress and anxiousness through the pandemic’s second wave.

“Clearly, these areas are actually essential for bodily exercise the place folks can go swimming, stroll on trails, go canoeing, you already know, relying on how adventurous you’re,” he mentioned.

This spring, folks reported having bother reserving campsites in Ontario Parks as reservations had been shortly snapped up.

Jeff Brown, a spokesperson for Ontario Parks, mentioned they noticed a report variety of parks guests final yr, and that is anticipated to proceed this yr.

However this newfound or elevated love for the outside additionally creates a problem for the parks, that are there to guard ecologically delicate lands and areas.

“This concept round, you already know, loving parks to dying, it has been round for some time,” Lemieux mentioned, including there’s an “uncomfortable relationship” between the twin mandate of those parks: to permit folks in, but in addition shield the world.

Customer etiquette considerations

This summer season, Ontario Parks and Parks Canada have launched #ForTheLoveOfParks, an academic marketing campaign to show new guests, and remind folks returning, mainly the way to behave in parks.

Brown mentioned that final yr, Ontario Parks and Parks Canada noticed 13 million guests mixed.

“With extra folks coming to our parks, we have seen a rise in a few sorts of behaviours that possibly will have an effect on our pure surroundings and that possibly will have an effect on different guests,” he mentioned in an interview.

Brown mentioned that features issues like a considerable amount of litter left behind on campsites and day use areas.

Workers additionally reported seeing extra folks going off designated trails.

That is an issue, he mentioned, as a result of “in case you make your personal path, it might probably actually trample habitats for a few of our delicate vegetation and animals that our parks are on the market to guard.”

He mentioned there have been additionally some “camper etiquette” points noticed final summer season, together with an growing variety of folks taking firewood from close by wooded areas as a substitute of shopping for it from the park retailer, or washing dishes at ingesting fountains.

“Our campers are nice stewards and with the precise info, we all know that they will be capable of assist us preserve our parks in a extremely pristine situation,” Brown mentioned.

The seashore at Awenda Provincial Park close to Tiny, Ont., in July 2020, loved by guests through the first summer season of the pandemic. (Chris Lemieux)

Parks Canada additionally reported in a information launch that there was a rise in human-wildlife interactions, significantly with folks leaving meals out by chance or on goal, in addition to folks eradicating pure supplies like flowers, driftwood and rocks. There have been additionally issues with swimming in undesignated areas, unlawful parking and aggressive behaviour towards park workers.

“A few of these issues might sound a bit of bit innocent on their very own. You already know, possibly it is one stick within the forest. Possibly it is one fast journey off the path,” Brown mentioned.

“However what occurs when we’ve so many individuals in our parks — and we’re completely happy to welcome guests in — is when that behaviour is repeated hundreds of instances all through the summer season, that is the place we can create some injury to our protected areas or create some challenges for our workers to maintain up with the quantity of litter that is on the bottom.”

Think about lesser identified parks

Lemieux mentioned whereas extra seasoned park guests could also be acquainted with phrases like “go away no hint” or “go away solely footprints, take solely photos,” it is all the time good to remind them what that truly means. He mentioned the #ForTheLoveOfParks marketing campaign is an efficient begin, however extra could possibly be achieved. 

He mentioned there are positively parks which can be extra in style — spots like Algonquin, Pinery, Bruce Peninsula — that might really profit from a “demarketing” marketing campaign.

“There’s a complete bunch of different protected areas which can be underutilized and might really accommodate extra visitation … these park businesses may wish to take into account adopting a little bit of a diversion technique.”

The grotto, seen right here from above at Bruce Peninsula Nationwide Park in southern Ontario, is understood for its cool, clear waters. (Parks Canada)

Lemieux mentioned he’ll additionally preserve an eye fixed on customer habits because the pandemic wanes and other people have extra choices for what they will do.

Lately, there’s been a rise in “selfie visits”: fast journeys the place folks do not spend numerous time at a location, however they take images to point out they had been there. 

Some parks have even tailored to those behaviours, just like the Hamilton Conservation Authority, which presents off-site parking and shuttle buses to see in style waterfall websites. That was put in place after experiences from neighbours that waterfall guests had been stopping on personal patios and consuming their lunches, and automobiles had been clogging close by streets.

“This modification has occurred actually quickly … lots of people are happy with a really brief go to, take a few images after which get out of there,” he mentioned.

Lemieux mentioned he is even modified his personal habits. Due to his dislike of crowds, he is discovered he enjoys visiting parks which can be additional north, like Lake Superior, and he’ll go to parks within the southern a part of Ontario through the “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall to keep away from massive teams.

Person charges pay for parks

Lemieux famous the funds for Ontario Parks comes nearly solely from consumer charges, equivalent to paying to enter for the day or tenting.

“What the general public would not notice is that little or no public funding goes into Ontario Parks to handle the parks, regardless of the very fact these areas present such an essential ecosystem service,” he mentioned. “They shield biodiversity, they clear air, clear water, they mitigate the consequences of local weather change.”

The final time the province created an Ontario park for leisure use was in 1989, when 4 parks had been established: La Motte Lake close to Sudbury, Komoka close to London, James N. Allen south of Dunnville and Dana-Jowsey Lakes south west of Timmins.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo requested the Ministry of the Setting, Conservation and Parks whether or not there have been plans for any future parks, however has not but obtained a response.

Lemieux mentioned for anybody eager to see extra Ontario parks, and even inexperienced areas inside their metropolis or municipality, probably the greatest instruments is to vote in elections.

“If you would like extra parks, that you must vote within the celebration that helps that [and] has an environmental agenda that features increasing the protected areas community.”

Dashing River Provincial Park is close to Kenora in northern Ontario, and presents tenting, a number of mountaineering trails and different actions. Laurier researcher Chris Lemieux says anybody trying to get away from crowded parks in southern Ontario could wish to attempt ones in northern Ontario. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

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