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Impending Wilkins Beach closure means local neighbourhood will 'suffer' (4 photos)

'They can take away the name, but I think the damage has been done. People who know about it are going to return to it,' says one resident

Residents near a tucked-away Barrie park  and its beach  are hoping the summer of 2021 will be an improvement over last year.

With its extensive trail system and sandy beach, Wilkins Park, located on the south side of Kempenfelt Bay near Golden Meadow Road, is a city "gem," according to local residents.

Unfortunately, a little shine came off that gem during the summer months last year as the beach became overcrowded  with what many locals contend were “out-of-towners”  and littering seemed to be the order of the day.

But if a city staff report to councillors comes to fruition, there won’t be a beach at all as efforts are made to give Mother Nature a hand with shoreline conservation that will perhaps give nearby residents a break as well.

Council has already passed a motion that Wilkins Beach be de-listed as a formal public beach. Now staff are suggesting areas identified as shoreline and the creek area at Wilkins Park be temporarily closed to the public for 2021 for restoration work.

That doesn’t sit too well with Dan St. Amand, who is a dog's walk away from the park and the beach, where he has also swam over the years.

“We used to take the kids down there and the dogs,” he tells BarrieToday. “It’ll be a shame if they do end up shutting that down. It’s really going to be locals who have been there traditionally long before this was a public (and popular) destination who are going to suffer, more so than the ‘city’ people. They’ll just move on to another beach.”

St. Amand says the area is changing.

“People used to be able to go down there and have a very quiet time with their family. It was always looked after; there was never a lot of debris or garbage down there,” he says, adding at one point, a stand-up piano was even deposited there. “But when they do this shore restoration, you’re not going to have a beach to sit on.”

Dave Friary, the city’s director of operations, doesn’t dispute that, adding the environmental restoration plan is necessary and will be up for final approval at the April 12 council meeting, at which there could be several deputations on the issue.

“There will be water access,” he says of the beach area after the restoration. “But there won’t be a sandy beach.

“Would you be able to access the water? Absolutely, when the work is all done. Will you be able to make sand castles? No, but there would be an opportunity to dip your toes in the water.”

The possible restoration work has St. Amand wondering.

“This has all come about, very coincidentally, on the tail end of the neighbourhood complaining about the public access and all these people coming up from out of town (in the summer of 2020) and the mess that came with it,” he says. “They can take away the name (Wilkins Beach), but I think the damage has been done. People who know about it are going to return to it.”

Some other out-of-the-way beaches in Barrie are in similar straits, St. Amand says.

“Minet’s Point was the same way. At one time, Minet’s was the quiet spot and then that became a designated beach and that became overwhelmed,” he says. “And Tyndale Beach, the same thing happened there. I’ve been in Barrie close to 40 years and when I was living in Barrie as a young guy, I didn’t even know about Tyndale Beach. Now it’s become one of those places that’s become a designated beach.”

Local resident and daily dog-walker Liane Berry watched the mayhem at Wilkins Beach last summer and also the accompanying parking issues on nearby streets.

“The signage that they did put in last summer specifically told people that if they didn’t have a City of Barrie parking permit they were not allowed to park and they would be ticketed and/or towed,” she says. “They had those signs basically on all the surrounding streets, including certain parts of Golden Meadow, and if they have those back up again sooner than later (this year), that might prevent the onslaught of people coming here and realizing that they can not park.

“For people who live here and have family members come to visit them (when they’re allowed due to COVID ), why should their family members be restricted from visiting because of parking? It takes the freedoms of the people who pay their property taxes to live here away from them,” Berry says.

“The other side of it is that people from the city are used to paying massive parking fees and don’t care about the ticket. The only thing that would work in that situation is the towing,” she adds.

From the Facebook posts that went up last year, Berry says she could see both sides.

“I could see the side that said let’s keep the out-of-towners from bombarding our beach, but on the other hand it’s taking away from the rights and freedoms of the people that live here and want to have a family member drop by.”

“It’s a complex issue and there are many different angles to this situation, there is no question about it,” St. Amand says. “You try to be understanding. At the end of the day, it’s going to be the population that used to go down there and have a nice time with their family, it’s them that are suffering.”

Wilkins Park is named after Barrie firefighter William ‘Billy’ Wilkins, who died in the line of duty on May 27, 2002 while fighting a house fire, the city’s fourth firefighter to die in the line of duty and the first in 54 years.

Ian McInroy

About the Author: Ian McInroy

Ian McInroy is an award-winning photographer and journalist with more than 30 years in the industry
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