Town fencing along Willow Beach

By: Mike Anderson

With York Region moving to Stage 2 this Friday, the Town of Georgina’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is deciding which public amenities, including its waterfront parks and beaches, will get the green light to reopen.

“As we look to open more public amenities, we will be moving forward cautiously, and deliberately to ensure we are making the right decisions, that are right for us. What may work in one community does not mean it will work for another, and there are a number of variables to consider,” said Mayor Margaret Quirk in a statement released on July 16.

“While June 19 has been determined when the next round of amenities can reopen, the Town will continue its work of making the necessary preparations adhering to new safety and health procedures and protocols ensuring we can do so safely. As we “ramp up” operations, we look forward to announcing official start dates of specific amenities later this week.”

Although the Town reopened all parks, excluding waterfront parks and beaches, on June 8, Mayor Quirk, as well as other members of the EOC, have repeatedly expressed their reluctance to reopen Georgina’s beaches.

“The idea of opening waterfront parks for resident use only has been discussed however the issue of physical distancing and enforcement remains, as well as other concerns such as traffic management,” said Mayor Quirk in a June 4 media release, while also citing the medical officer of health’s support to keep the beaches closed.

“While the province has signalled plans to reopen amenities, I remain supportive of the Town of Georgina’s plans to continue restricting access to its beaches,” said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, in the same June 4 release.

“York Region Public Health continues to emphasize the necessity for physical distancing rules to be observable before safely reopening our beaches.”

However, the pressure to reopen the beaches, at least for residents-only, has been building, as Georgina’s active COVID-19 cases remain mostly in long-term care, and other jurisdictions move to reopen their beach areas.

Across Cook’s Bay, the Town of Innisfil is reopening its public beaches, with parking, including at Innisfil Beach Park, reserved for residents only.

According to a spokesperson, town staff are working to ensure additional signage, physical distancing markers and enforcement are ready for the opening date of June 20.

“We are working very hard to reopen our beaches so residents can enjoy them,” said Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin in a recent press release.

The beach at Sibbald Point Provincial Park will also reopen on June 19, under Stage 2, although access will be limited.

“We will also be implementing measures to address overcrowding and promote physical distancing in our park spaces and buildings during busy visitation times, by limiting occupancy for day-use and camping,” said Connor Oke, a spokesperson for Ontario Parks.

“This may include limiting the number of daily vehicle permits sold or the number of campsites available for reservations.”

According to Regional Councillor Rob Grossi, there is broad community support for a short term reopening of some or all of the municipality’s beaches, as long as physical distancing is maintained, and they’re limited to residents-only access.

But he admits it will be challenging to prevent non-residents from accessing the Town’s beaches.

“You can’t really restrict the beach, that’s going to be the hardest thing to do, and we don’t have the manpower to do it. What you can do is restrict parking to resident parking only,” said Mr. Grossi.

“And directional signage should direct non-residents to the only public beach, which is Sibbald Point Provincial Park.”

Mr. Grossi also supports the use of the Town’s ambassador program to help redirect non-residents away from resident-only beach areas. But he cautions against anyone approaching people and interrogating them.

“I don’t want to get in the situation where a resident is walking up to somebody else in the park or on a beach and says: Hey! We know you are not from here. Could you show me your parking pass? I don’t want to get into that.”

But Ward 3 Councillor Dave Neeson, who resides in Willow Beach, isn’t ready to reopen the beaches.

“I’d prefer to keep them closed, as per the advice of the medical officer of health. But if that changes, I would be supportive. But we need to have a fulsome discussion about what infrastructure we need to put in place. Whether it’s a full opening or whether it’s residents only. It can’t just be business as usual.”

According to a Town spokesperson, the EOC’s decision on reopening the Town’s waterfront parks and beaches will be announced on June 18.



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