By: Mike Anderson

De La Salle Park will remain open this month, as staff continue to monitor visitor volume with the hope of removing some restrictions next week, according to a Town spokesperson.

The waterfront park reopened on July 20, with a limited capacity of 650 people.

Visitor parking was also restricted to 85 spaces – sometimes raised to 95 – in the lots off Metro Rd, while more than 40 resident-only spaces at the Chapel building parking lot were available.

Beachgoers were encouraged not to sunbathe or linger on the beach – with most staying no longer than an hour – part of a “beach in motion” concept borrowed from Innisfil, which reopened its beaches on June 19, a full month before the Town.

Only entrance to the beach

Staff also drew circles on grassy areas to encourage visitors to socially distance while picnicking, and barbecuing was banned.

According to the Town, more than 45,000 people have visited the park since it reopened, most complying with the new rules and restrictions, which carried a set fine of $150 for violations.

“We are very pleased with the cooperation and support from both residents and visitors. Our guidelines and procedures were followed, allowing us to open our beach in a safe and measured manner,” said Fire Chief Ron Jenkins.

With Georgina’s active COVID-19 cases remaining in the low single digits, there is no evidence that that the reopening contributed to community spread, leading many to call the Town’s decision to reopen the park a success.

But the cost of reopening the park with enhanced COVID-19 safety protocols, including additional fencing and signage, a new tracking system and more staffing, has been high.

The Town says a breakdown of the costs will be made public at a later date. But it appears that reduced parking revenues at De La Salle – nearly $30,000 to date – will do little to offset them.

According to Chief Jenkins, the cost was enough to prevent the Town from reopening its other major waterfront parks, like Willow Beach and Homes Point.

Still, some residents remain critical of the Town’s decision not to reopen its other waterfront parks.

In Pefferlaw, residents who live near Riverview Park, the Town’s most easterly beach, say that with only one public beach open in Georgina, non-residents showed up at their small waterfront park most weekends.

They say GTA day-trippers and campers from Green Acres, a nearby trailer park, frequently broke down fences at the park, ignoring COVID-19 signs and the threat of fines to access the beach.

“When it was really warm in July and August, myself and a few other neighbours were constantly telling people its closed,” said Terrence Jones, a spokesperson for the Riverview Park community.

“But they were just pulling down the big orange snow fence and going in anyway.”

Residents gather in front of Riverview Park to speak to The Post

Residents repeatedly called the Town’s bylaw office but said it was hard to get bylaw officers to come by.

“COVID has been very challenging. People try and go to the park, and when we tell them it’s closed, they swear at us,” said Palma Polesel, who’s frustrated with the Town’s response.

“I’ve been calling bylaw constantly, but I can only leave a message at the Town on the weekends, so it’s hard to get the bylaw officers to come as often as they need to.”

And when bylaw officers do attend, they issue warnings rather than fines, which residents say offer little or no deterrent.

“There’s a number of people that will just come over and stop and take the chance,” said Joseph Pollice, who owns a cottage next to the park.

“They go for a swim, and they hide their stuff in the bushes. The bylaws just escort them off. I’ve never seen anybody get a fine. It’s supposed to be $750.”

Many residents, frustrated with people breaking the rules, want to see the Town switch Riverview Park, from a public to a private, or resident-only, park.

“If the residents comply with social distancing, we should be able to access the beach,” said Susanna Cuda, who’s family cottage is also across from the park.

“Why can someone who doesn’t live here hop the fence and use the beach, but I can’t. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Should Town of Georgina open resident-only beach?
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