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Lessons learned at Innisfil Beach Park last summer could be carried into 2021

From the May long weekend to Sept. 20, 32,514 resident vehicles were admitted to Innisfil Beach Park
James Roncone, vice-chair of the Innisfil Beach Park ad hoc committee, says technology like the boat launch app made managing the park easier during the pandemic. He sees it being used more going forward. Shane MacDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

This summer at Innisfil Beach Park was unlike any other because of the pandemic, and there might be some lessons there for the future. 

The Innisfil Beach Park ad hoc committee, which makes recommendations to council on park improvements, wants to see the town implement some of the methods used this summer to manage the park continue into 2021. 

The tow strategy, no visitor parking within one kilometre of the shoreline, and the boat launch app are among them. 

“This year, it was an opportunity to try out different things,” said Coun. Donna Orsatti, who chairs the committee. 

The pandemic required the town to do things differently to manage crowding in the interest of public safety. 

“It changes the way that you view everything,” she said. “Distancing and the way you use a park, the need for people to be able to walk, to get outdoors, to have space.”

For James Roncone, citizen member and vice-chair of the committee, the pandemic was an opportunity to put into action ideas previously suggested, like the parking restrictions near the shoreline and the boat launch app. 

“We already had that in the works, so that's why they were able to launch very quickly,” he said.

Looking back, Roncone said he thinks more technology and data will help the town manage the park even better. 

“Using technologies, you have control,” he said. “I've always said  that you need to know how many people are in the park and how many  parking spots you have available.”

Roncone said he envisions an app where people can book their parking spot, boat launch time, and other amenities at the park. 

He said the committee has also asked council to look into parking technology to deal with congestion from people trying to enter the park.  

According to the Town of Innisfil, from the May long weekend to Sept. 20, 32,514 resident vehicles were admitted to the park. Resident vehicles made up 73 per of all vehicles that attempted to enter the park during that time frame. 

Nicole Bowman, interim director of operations for the town, said better parking technology could help manage the park. 

“Is that the exact right solution for next summer? Well, that depends on what the COVID landscape looks like, but we still learned that there is a role for technology in there, in helping to provide balance at the park,” she said.

One of the most effective strategies used this summer to manage the park was actually a low-tech one. 

“Our ‘beaches in motion’ concept was one of our biggest wins,” Bowman said. “We were able to have a safe place for people to visit.”

Perhaps the biggest lesson from this summer is the importance of flexibility. 

“We were constantly adapting and we really learned this summer that sometimes we need to try something and then adjust and go forward again,” she said.

If the pandemic continues next summer, Bowman said, the town is ready to use what it learned this year to ensure a safe place for residents. 

“We certainly have a playbook that's ready to open up again and pick up where we left off,” she said. 

Shane MacDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance