Loss of sustainability will impact quality of life and future generations
by Joseph Gentile

November 14, 2016

by Joseph Gentile

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                                                                                            Photo @ Explore the Bruce
Rugged beauty of this unique part of Ontario
... can it remain this way for future generations?

A woman in Paisley, Ontario is voicing concern over Parks Canada’s decision to allow all admissions in 2017 free to the public.

Amanda Dieringer from the Village of Paisley has made it clear that she doesn’t agree with the announcement to make admissions free in commemoration of Canada’s 150th.

“Parks Canada absolutely should not have a ‘free parks’ year. I firmly believe that our situation in the Bruce will worsen due to Parks Canada's decision. The more advertising, the worse it gets and throw ‘free’ on top of that and you’re asking for a disaster.” she said. “How is bringing in more tourists that have absolutely no repercussions on the damage they cause considered sustainable?”

During a phone interview with a park booking director (who wishes to remain anonymous), it is learned that only the 'entrance' fee has been waved for this summer season. When asked about the entrance fee to the Bruce Peninsula National Park, her response was that the BPNP never had an entrance fee and that people get mistaken between a parking fee and an entrance fee.  "The park on the Bruce [BPNP] has never had an actual entrance fee. In essence, the Park in Tobermory will be charging people the same rate as previous years with no entrance fee. Parking is 100% separate and is not to be confused with an utterance charge.  "

She noted that parks such as Banff charge an additional fee on top of parking which the Bruce has never done. "People don't realize that the Bruce Peninsula National Park is one of the few parks we have in Canada that don't charge people to enter."

Perhaps it's time to change that and set up a park entrance fee for the summer of 2018. In this case, an entrance fee would help. Parks Canada itself has no jurisdiction over all parks. Most often, entrance fees are set up by the stationed park board.

Dieringer says that she believes that our tourism crisis is quite under looked by many including our local RTO, the RTO 7. 

Many other Ontario communities who also heavily rely on tourism have faced the same challenges.

Keith Oliver, a retired urban planner from Cobourg, Ontario, says that Cobourg was once prone to the mass influx of tourists the Peninsula is now facing. “People were using barbeques regularly. Coals were dumped in receptacle bins and grills were scraped clean in the lake. A sand pit filled with hot charcoal was not an uncommon sight. It became so that barbeques were no longer allowed. Big tents were simply too big to allow dominance in our waterfront. Large tents are encouraged to stay away from the water’s edge. It makes our waterfront more people friendly, one where you are comfortable letting your children play freely.”

One can question why, in a place as popular as the Indian Head Cove, we allow people to set up these tents in the morning. Or, at Sauble beach, despite constant reminder of disaster they cause, why barbeques are still used on the First Nation's side of the beach.

Oliver said the only way Cobourg found a “great solution” was by effective communication and a broader thinking pattern when it comes to tourism. “It’s not all about the money even though it is a big factor. The business community prospers when the rest of the community prospers! When sustainability becomes an issue you are negatively impacting your [towns] social quality of life.” 

Oliver is confident that Grey Bruce will resolve its own issue. Indeed we can reach a compromise, but how can we convince politicians to join? Dr. Rachel Dodds from Ryerson University makes it clear that there is another level of communication all together we must add.

In addition to giving worldwide lectures on sustainable tourism, Dodds has guest lectured at conferences worldwide. 

“Many of the environmental conservation organizations [groups] do not have the necessary business skills or knowledge of tourism and the tourism organizations are only marketing organizations rather than management organizations. There is a key disconnect in Ontario, the Ministry of Tourism has no sustainability mandate - only a promotion one. [Parks Canada] may be promoting free admission due to the fall in visitation in past years.” said Dodds.

But, our visitation numbers do not reflect the visitation numbers of a couple of years ago. Has this ever been considered?

Dodds explained her efforts to work with the region. “I did a consulting project for Region 7 in 2011 which included a sustainable tourism strategy for the region along with a number of toolkits for all types of tourism businesses to increase their level of sustainability. Nothing was ever done with it sadly.”

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One can only question why, in 2011, municipalities failed to listen to a Professor. Why were the concerns and suggestions brought up by experts that accurately predicted our ecological decay disregarded? 

According to Dodds, there is a lot of confusion over the term ecotourism. “Ecotourism is defined as tourism to natural areas, for small groups that has an educational and conservation focus to it. Ecotourism is a subset of sustainable tourism. The whole tourism industry can become more sustainable but not all tourism can be ecotourism.”

When asked what advice she has for the region now she said, “Manage and protect the key attribute which is attracting your visitors.”

Dodds also answered a key question on the minds of both business owners and nature enthusiasts. “If one doesn’t protect the very resource that attracts visitors, the entire common good can be lost. A key issue with tourism is that once an attractive area is found, it is often over marketed and only when environmental degradation is realized, planning and management measures are put into practice - at which time it is often too late.” 

One cannot say the number of tourists we have let in over the short three month time frame of summer is sustainable. It is agreed that although further implementations on respectable tourism practices may not be welcomed in the business community, it will save us down the line.

Some however, are left speechless by this summer’s crowds. 

The Woods Family, for instance, has made Saugeen Shores their seasonal playground for the past three decades.  Ken Woods remembers a simpler time in the region. With time, he has seen a decline.  “Summer crowds are simply out of control. My daughter recently rented a cottage [Sauble] and upon their arrival they were alarmed to see an enormous motor home parked right across the entry to the beach.” said Woods. “the vehicles parked between her and the lake made it impossible for her young family to safely enjoy the beach.  I have seen bus loads of people come in from the Brampton area. The garbage left behind is unbelievable! Parking is so tight; one can no longer enjoy a peaceful day at the beach. ”

Dieringer acknowledges that Bruce Grey needs tourists, but in moderation. She leaves this message behind: “We are paying for tourists to come and destroy land. It takes two seconds to destroy and years to replenish, if it even does. Roads are jam packed with cars, they park on sidewalks leaving us locals with nowhere to walk safely. Voices in numbers matter… business owners, retirees, locals - we need to work together at the end of the day while saving our ecosystems. We can use 'native' teachings to improve our sustainability status. We can take native lessons and apply them in advertising,” she says. 

After reading the Parks Canada mandate, Dieringer believes  that, "Parks Canada is not following their own mandate by allowing a catastrophic amount of tourists to overcrowd our precious areas and by allowing a free year.  Why yes, Native teachings can be used throughout our region and, perhaps, it’s time to create better relations with our spiritual neighbors.  Perhaps the Petition created in July by Mr. Gentile can come to use where we stand now.  The Bruce is in for the next big change."

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Monday, November 14, 2016