Most people flock to cottage country to relax and enjoy the summer season.
However, for many cottagers in Long Point, that could be a tough thing to do this year.
High water in Lake Erie has eroded most of the beach in the resort community. With space on the waterfront constrained, there are fears of large crowds on hot days setting the stage for a COVID-19 super-spreader event.
“There is no space here to safely social distance,” cottager Lisa Livingston told Norfolk and Haldimand’s board of health on June 30.
“I’m really concerned about Canada Day. I’m really concerned about the weekend. I’m hoping next year this is settled. But if there’s no beach there’s nowhere for anyone to go.”
As it happened, Long Point was crowded on Canada Day. Long line-ups of cars were reported on the Long Point Causeway, while Long Point Provincial Park was filled to capacity by early afternoon.
“It is only 11 a.m., and the traffic entering Long Point is bumper to bumper all the way off the causeway to the mainland,” cottager John Henderson, a member of the Long Point Ratepayers’Association board of directors, said in a report from the village.
“With much of the Crown and private beach gone to high water and the provincial park at reduced capacity due to COVID-19, these people are already taking matters into their own hands. Several of the previously closed and fenced Norfolk County walkways (to the waterfront) have been cut open and fencing pushed aside for access.
“The overcrowding that has started and will only get much worse by after lunch is a significant concern and fear for us just now.”
Livingston’s primary concern is the 163 parking spaces Norfolk County installed along the north side of Erie Boulevard several years ago.
Before water levels in Lake Erie reached a record high last year, the parking spaces corresponded in length with available beach. That is no longer the case, with the lake lapping up against the property line of cottagers on Woodstock Avenue.
Livingston asked the board to consider closing 128 of the spaces to discourage visitors from stopping there and crowding onto what little beach remains.
“It’s a real necessity to do this,” Livingston said. “You can’t put people in an area where there is no beach without spreading COVID-19.”
Norfolk staff and members of Norfolk council, which serves as the board of health for both Norfolk and Haldimand County, were sympathetic to Livingston’s concerns.
However, they’ve seen enough busy summer weekends in Port Dover, Turkey Point and Long Point to know that eliminating parking will likely cause problems elsewhere.
“COVID-19 puts a spin on things as far as safety,” said Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s general manager of community and emergency services. “But if people can’t find places to park they tend to find places to park that aren’t acceptable to residents there.”
Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele agreed.
“I’m not clear what the practical outcome will be once you remove those parking spaces,” he said.
Livingston’s deputation was received as information, with no action taken.
On July 2, Masschaele responded by email to the concerns Henderson, Livingston and others in the Long Point area have expressed.
“Let me say that I have met with representatives from OPP, bylaw, Ontario Parks, Norfolk County department heads, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests to put together the beginning of a plan to address the many and varied issues plaguing Long Point,” Masschaele said.
“Valuable input has been received from all parties and in the coming weeks, as more information is gathered, I expect that changes will take place aimed at reasonable solutions that may not make everyone happy but will be a step or steps in the right direction.”