By Mike Anderson

The Town of Georgina’s decision to ban cooking at its waterfront parks is not going over well with out-of-town visitors, many calling it ridiculous and saying they won’t be back any time soon.

Arghavan Rastegari, 27, a mortgage broker from Richmond Hill, who was visiting De La Salle Park on the long weekend with a group of seven friends, was surprised they couldn’t barbecue in the park.

“Every park we go to usually has somewhere to cook or has a barbecue setup you can use,” she said.

“What will we do with all the chicken and stuff we brought? It’s going to go bad in the car.”

Rastegari said going into Jackson’s Point or Sutton to eat was not an option.

“It’s too much of a hassle. We’ll probably wait a couple of hours and go somewhere else to cook,” she said.

“It would be great if they had a designated BBQ; we would just cook here.”

Rastergari admits the cooking ban would keep her from coming back.

“We will go somewhere else, where we’re allowed to cook,” she said.

Adam, 44, from Newmarket, who didn’t want his real name published, is also upset about the ban. He said it’s not good for tourism.

“This is the last time I’m coming here. I’ve been coming here two, three times a year, every year. But, I don’t think I will come back again,” he said.

“I think this park will only be for locals, and nobody will come from outside. They’ll lose in the long run.”

Adam also didn’t want to eat at local restaurants due to the cost and potentially losing his parking spot.

“I come here to spend my whole day. I don’t want to go outside,” he said.

Andrea & Vitoria with their kids at De La Salle Park

Vitoria Cimbron, 27, from Bradford and Andrea Inacio, 31, from Innisfil, brought ten family members, including three kids under nine.

“We used to like coming to the park because you can eat and then go to the beach. So we are disappointed that we can no longer do that,” Cimbron said.

“We were actually told to take the BBQ out of the park by a police officer.”

“It’s crazy. People come here to relax and eat with their families. All the food we brought is now in the garbage,” she said.

Cimbron was also surprised to see people kicked out of the park for breaking the ban.

“There were at least two groups near us that were kicked out,” she said.

“First came the staff and then the police; they just stood around watching us. I told them it feels like we are in jail.”

“It’s disappointing. It’s a small thing, not being able to barbecue. But it’s still something everybody enjoys in the summer.”

Iancio said they ended up putting the BBQ in their truck and driving down a side road to cook.

She would like to see a designated BBQ area built in the park.

“The Barrie beach has BBQs that people share. They need to do something like that here,” she said.

According to a Town spokesperson, the cooking ban was introduced by the Parks Division and is not a bylaw approved by council.

“It was an operational decision that was implemented due to health and safety concerns,” said Tanya Thompson, the Town’s communication manager, in an email to the Post.

“Cooking coals were not being properly disposed of in the provided receptacles, posing a safety risk to visitors.”

“Bylaw and Fire have also responded to cooking incidents at parks, including a propane tank that exploded at De La Salle last year.”

Thompson says several other municipalities have implemented similar bans, which she argues has the added benefit of reducing the garbage left behind.

While Innisfil and Barrie have implemented cooking bans, Barrie provides a dedicated BBQ area for visitors in some parks.

Meanwhile, Orillia still allows portable BBQs at its waterfront parks, reversing a decision to ban them during the pandemic.

The fine for illegally cooking in Georgina’s waterfront parks is stiff, $175. And it may be repeated if the person refuses to stop cooking — so that well-done tube steak could end up costing $350.

Still, visitors who are unable to cook are left with few options.

There are currently no food trucks, hot dog stands or vending machines allowed in the Town’s waterfront parks.

According to Dan Buttineau, Director of Community Services, no food trucks or vendors will be allowed until staff receive the final recommendations from the Waterfront Parks Master Plan — which won’t be submitted until the end of 2022 — and after a refresh of the park’s bylaws are approved.

Iancio calls the decision to ban food trucks ridiculous.

“Somebody in the community could have their own business, and it would be perfect,” she said.

“Even an ice cream truck for kids would be something.”

Faced with a lack of food options, frustrated visitors have started removing the no cooking signs in the park, hoping they won’t get fined.

According to Thompson, the signs will be replaced, and their removal is considered an offence.

While Thompson acknowledges visitors’ need to eat, she suggests they plan ahead and pack a pre-made lunch or dinner.

“Food and refreshments are an important part of enjoying time at the park, and we encourage our visitors to pack pre-made food or to check out one of our local businesses for some great food options,” she said.

Ward 4 Councillor Frank Sebo also supports the ban.

“There have always been concerns about hot coals not being disposed of properly, chicken bones and fish entrails being left strewn on the ground, and the general increase in litter that seems to come with barbecuing or cooking,” he said.

“As we complete the Waterfront Parks Masterplan and begin to implement some of the recommended changes and improvements, we will perhaps look to accommodate the cooking of food again in certain designated areas. If there is demand for it, and if we can better mitigate the concerns.”

Dale Kerr Genge, who is running for Ward 4 councillor in the upcoming municipal election, also agrees with the ban.

But she does not support the current ban on food trucks.

“The presence of mobile food trucks will in no way affect the plans resulting from the parks master plan,” she said.

“However, I don’t believe it should be a free-for-all with respect to food trucks. The number should be limited, and preference should be given to food trucks that belong to Georgina businesses.”

Genge also supports pop-up stores at waterfront parks, which would include the sale of food.

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