Niagara conservation authority reopening trails for passive use
Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is taking a phased-in approach to reopening its conservation areas that had been shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As warmer temperatures are expected to arrive in the days to come, NPCA opened trails in 14 of its 42 conservation areas Monday, allowing passive use of the facilities, such as for dog walking, hiking, birdwatching, photography and cycling.
“The parks are not open per se, but the trails are,” said NPCA board chair Brenda Johnson, while urging people to use the facilities responsibly.
In addition to following social distancing guidelines, she asked people using trails not to leave anything behind.
“We’re asking people whatever you pack in, please pack back out again. Leave nothing but your footprints because it puts our staff at risk when they have to go out and collect garbage, it puts our staff at risk when they have to go out and change garbage cans,” Johnson said. “We’re asking people to be respectful. If you want to enjoy nature, enjoy it, but please don’t leave anything behind.”
She also asked people using facilities to remain on trails, unless they need to step off to the side to allow others to pass. Dogs must be on a leash and people are asked to pick up after them.
“Yes, we know it’s the forest, but pick up after your dog.”
Conservation areas that have reopened include: Gainsborough; the Comfort Maple in Pelham; the bog and wetlands conservation areas, and the Gord Harry Trail in Wainfleet,
Two Mile Creek and the Virgil Dams and Reservoirs in Niagara-on-the-Lake; Willoughby Marsh in Niagara Falls; Canborough in Dunnville, and Hedley Forest in Haldimand.
Although the boat launch at the E.C. Brown wetlands in Pelham remains closed for the time being, its trails have reopened.
The main Binbrook park on Harrison Road in Hamilton remains closed, too, although the trails through the Carolinian forest at the site, as well as the
nearby Tyneside Trail, have reopened. Johnson said opening remaining facilities will follow upper-tier government guidelines.
“Our flagship (parks), they’re not going to reopen. We’re going to be phasing it in. But we have to take our guidance from the province.”
She said NPCA chose to close its facilities entirely as the epidemic began to spread because “people weren’t getting the social distancing component.”
“The parks and the trails were becoming over inundated with hikers and people who wanted to get out of the house.”
She said that also created parking problems along some of the rural and residential roads where conservation areas are located.
“These are all rural roads up there. You’ve got ditches on each side, so parking is not compatible. If you park too much over to the side, you could literally open up your car door and drop down six feet.”
She said it was a concern for emergency workers, too, who might have difficulty navigating rural roads if there are too many vehicles parked.
“If there’s a house fire and people are parking on both sides of the road, accessibility becomes an issue.”
Johnson said most people have been understanding about the full facility closures, adding she has not received “a whole lot of push back about the trails, to be honest with you.”
However, she said, overlapping management for some conservation areas in Hamilton caused confusion for people.
A woman walks along the path of Two Mile Creek Conservation Area in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Parks have begun to gradually reopen as the province has lifted some closure rules.
Parks, such as the Comfort Maple conservation area in Pelham, have begun to gradually reopen as the province has lifted some closure rules.