Editorial: Be a good neighbour SLPC

In the months leading up to this fall, public health officials, including Eastern Ontario Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, have been saying that this winter outdoor recreation is vitally important for people. Outdoor recreation allows space for people to do things apart from others, but remain active. Municipalities and user groups have been actively looking for ways to increase the amount of activities available. This is important as we see more restrictions to indoor recreation as the second wave of COVID-19 envelops Ontario.

This is why it is discouraging, and unfortunate, to learn the St. Lawrence Parks Commission is keeping the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary closed for the fall season. The winter season is unknown but the SLPC is working with the Friends of the Sanctuary group. According to the SLPC, the 9,000 hectare preserve is closed because of flood damage to the boardwalk structure this spring, and some of the trails have fallen debris from the preserve being closed this summer. This is unacceptable.

The preserve is a favourite recreation space of many in the region since it opened in the early 1960’s. Closing off a vast outdoor space to the public because there are repairs needed to the boardwalks is akin to scrapping a car because you have a flat tire.

Just close the trails that need repair.

In July, the SLPC received over $7 million in a funding “renewal” from the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. Only half of the SLPC facilities reopened this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. While other provincially-owned parks opened this summer with minimal restrictions, why is this region treated differently? SLPC lands that were closed this summer caused undue strain on other area beaches and parks, causing additional financial expenses for neighbouring municipalities. That’s not very neighbourly of our largest landholder.

It suggests, yet again, that priorities of the SLPC management, the board of commissioners, and/or the minsitry do not match that of residents in the host communities. For example, why were vast fields of grass mowed at closed campgrounds like Riverside-Cedar and along the Long Sault Parkway, yet the boardwalks at the UCMBS could not be repaired and debris removed? If the SLPC needed help with this, there are many in the community who could help.

The SLPC should focus on being a good neighbour by opening its lands up and welcoming people, not on being so insular. We’re all in this together, it’s time the SLPC think that way too.

Editor’s Note – After this editorial was published October 7th, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission announced it would open the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary to the public beginning October 9th. Access to damaged trails will be closed.

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