The issues that surfaced over the past weekend at Wilkins Beach have created a storm of controversy that neighbours of the park say has been brewing for years.
A group of residents in the Wilkins Beach neighbourhood have been meeting with City of Barrie general manager of infrastructure and growth management, Andrea Miller.
Miller told BarrieToday that indeed there was a press release coming out later today that would address the concerns of the residents close to the beach.
“This has been going on for quite some time and I met with the residents last week to hear their concerns and what they feel needs to be done,” said Miller.
“Recently, it has been the perfect storm for Wilkins Beach. With the weather being so warm, COVID making people stir crazy to get outside and the beach being so picturesque, many people flocked to the area," said Miller.
City staff are reminding people not gather in groups larger than 10, continue to social distance and plan your trip accordinlgy as some parks and beaches don't have washrooms. Staff are asking people to not use the treed area as a washroom as it can damage the area and could cause the locatio to close completely.
The issues being addressed in the next few days include a full barbecue prohibition at the park, a removal of the word “beach” from the main signage and updating the city website to remove Wilkins Beach from the list of Barrie beaches.
In addition, garbage crews will increase the number of containers and how often they remove garbage. On top of that, the city will step up bylaw enforcement at Wilkins and Tyndale beaches with more signage and a media campaign.
Enforcement services staff will be ticketing at Wilkins Park and Tyndale Beach for any infractions and there will be no verbal warning.
Miller said the little parkette and beach isn’t equipped to handle large crowds - there is no parking and no bathrooms. The city roads leading up to it have been overrun as well.
Resident-only parking will begin along Crimson Ridge Road and Capps Drive with the possibility of the area being designated a tow-away zone should conditions not improve.
“I know that residents want a full closure of Wilkins, but that is very difficult to implement," said Miller, noting when beaches were closed earlier this summer, people went anyway.
“The challenge is the enforcement of it and the inability to have someone sit down there all day kicking people out," Miller said.
On Monday, Ward 10 Councillor Mike McCann posted a video on his Facebook page asking Mayor Jeff Lehman to use his COVID-19 state of emergency powers to close all beaches to out-of-town visitors.
Lehman responded on his Facebook page by sharing a post on Tourism Barrie website promoting Wilkins Beach as a destination.
In his post, Lehman “asked Councillor Mike McCann, who is council's representative on the Tourism Barrie Board of Directors, why they are deliberately promoting Wilkins Beach to out of town visitors.”
On Tuesday morning, McCann spoke about the war of words.
“Leadership is not about making excuses,” said McCann. “The reason the beaches have been the way they are is simple: COVID. Our beaches have become very attractive to those from out of town and we need to shut them down. We are not doing enough and we need to close the beaches."
Lehman clarified his Facebook post in an interview with BarrieToday.
“These issues existed before the (post) on Tourism Barrie," said the Mayor. "I certainly don’t blame the issues on that particular (post). I do find it troubling that the organization was actively promoting out-of-towners coming to the beach, especially over the last week."
Lehman said the city has been working on the issue for a while.
“I got involved in this in the last three weeks and one of the first things we did was have Andrea Miller go down and meet with about 60 residents a week ago and responded with strategies immediately and some again today," he said.
Lehman agreed with McCann’s statement about leadership. He conceded “not enough has been done on this and those kinds of issues should have been addressed before now.”
The mayor warned people who violate the rules could have their vehicles towed. He said Wilkins is a special case in that it was never designed to take in the crowds it is getting and can’t be used that way.
“Its a small sandy area at the end of the Lover’s Creek ravine and that's relevant because in a ravine we can’t and don’t have the same services there," said Lehman. "There is no parking lot, no washrooms and our ability to get in there and clean garbage is much more constrained."Neighbours say the issue has been festering for a long time.
Linda Campbell lives on Capps Drive, one of the streets that has been greatly affected by the many vehicles parked there on the weekends. Campbell has been a part of the area’s concerned residents group for a while and says this is not strictly a COVID issue.
She shared emailed concerns about the beach going back to September of 2019.
“This something we’ve been talking to Mike McCann about for quite a long time and last year was no different than this year,” said Campbell. “We sent several emails last year to our councillor and expressed our concerns on the garbage and crowds of people at Wilkins as well as the line of cars on the streets. That many cars on these roads are a danger and we as residents shouldn't have to clean up after people from out of town or in town, for that matter.”
Campbell agreed with McCann that many of the visitors are from outside Barrie.
“We are always wondering just where all these cars are from so we can report back to the city as to how best to fix this. I’ll personally give a wave and ask how they are and where they’re from and the absolute majority are from Aurora, Brampton, Toronto or Newmarket,” said Campbell.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell obviously where they are from as their cars don't have a sign on them. But we definitely need this area to be a tow-away zone because people laugh at the ticket and treat it like a cheap parking pass.”
While Wilkins Beach is not the only park and beach being hit with large crowds during the current health crisis, it is one of many “boutique beaches,” as McCann called them.
McCann referred to smaller, tucked away beaches like Tyndale, Johnson and Minets Point as not being able to handle larger crowds like Centennial Beach can.
Campbell counted 84 people at the small Wilkins Beach at 2 p.m. this past Saturday and knows it isn’t able to handle that much traffic.
“People have their barbecues out with their tents from morning to night. They’re washing barbecue grates in the water, leaving used toilet paper in the forestry, overflowing the garbage cans, it needs to stop,” said Campbell.