Changes recommended for Fairy Lake
by Sandy Lindsay

March 16, 2017

Town Council

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Fairy Lake
(Saugeen Times file photo)

Councilor Diane Huber of Southampton Ward brought forward a motion at Council on March 13th that incorporated several proposed changes and restrictions for Fairy Lake development.

Fairy Lake (a.k.a. Little Lake) is set in the heart of Southampton where residents and visitors can enjoy nature and, on summer Sundays, outdoor concerts at the Pavilion.

Children are often seen feeding the ducks and other wildlife that frequent the lake and the patio of Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre, that overlooks it, is a popular spot for visitors.

Surrounding the lake is a walking path with pedestrian bridges that are in the process of being upgraded.  Since the 1930s, the path has become an inviting natural environment where seniors, families and those with pets enjoy a leisurely walk.

The lake and its surrounds are known as a 'Passive Park' which by definition is "... a creative landscaped area designed for aesthetic appeal and passive leisure activities that may include natural area, playgrounds, picnic areas and that is used for walking, sitting, casual play, viewing and birdwatching".

Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre, in 2009, was one of only five recipients in the Province that received Awards of Excellence  given out by the Ontario Museum Association (OMA).  The Museum received the award for its Fairy Lake initiative.  The initiative, that ran for three years, featured a nature walking tour around Fairy Lake on two afternoons each summer. 

On the tours, visitors of primarily children with parents, both national and international, walked in groups of 20 around the lake.  The tour integrated nature, pioneer and aboriginal histories, the importance of stewardship of the environment and the patterns that are found throughout nature as they relate to everyday usage. It also tied into both the traveling and permanent exhibits that are housed within the Museum. 

While many trees were recently removed due to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer infestation, plans are underway to renew the tree canopy with native and Carolinian species of trees along with an additional fountain to improve the health of the lake.

There are however, five areas of concern that were addressed in the motion.

1.  The complete removal of the armour stone in front of the Pavilion as it is felt that it acts as a barrier to the grassy area in front of the Pavilion.  "This was actually surplus stone left from the shoring up of the shoreline of the lake," said Huber, "and the area should be more accessible with appropriate grading and vegetative planting along with the future upgrades and washroom facilities.

2. A tender or work documents should ensure that upgrading and/or rebuilding of the path should continue the historical legacy of a pedestrian walking experience

3. The path should be defined as a pedestrian path/sidewalk to disallow the use of roller skates, roller blades, a coaster/skateboard, toy vehicles or bicycles and that would, in effect, have the path fall under the same By-Law as sidewalks.

4.  Vehicular traffic at the High Street access should be clearly restricted to 'delivery' purposes for the Pavilion and for Town maintenance vehicles.  Parking should not be permitted in the Park area with applicable signage at the access.

5.  Environmentally friendly elements should be considered to reduce attractiveness to Canada Geese adjacent to the path along the High St. area and  Matheson Park at the east end of the lake.

The major concern however, was a proposed change that would allow cyclists on the pedestrian path. 

Councilor Dave Myette questioned that a recommendation coming to Council should come through a committee.  He also said that he thought the armour stone was actually a good seating alternative for those who came to listen to a summer concert but who did not bring seating with them.  He also questioned whether children use the part to ride their bikes to school.  "To say no bikes at any time is restrictive. I realize bikes on sidewalks pose a hazard but I have trouble with restricting them on the path."

Students at G. C. Huston Public School, adjacent to Fairy Lake, are in fact discouraged from going near the lake as a safety precaution unless part of a class study group under the guidance of a teacher.

Councilor Diane Huber, explained that the Accessibility Committee had recognized the path as a pedestrian walkway without cyclists and, at those committee meetings and through public consultations, had expressed that the path should be pedestrian.

"In my opinion, kids do not ride their bikes to school using that path as it can be slippery and is actually longer than using Grey Street.  Also, what we are intending to do is enhance the park and, with the removal of the infested trees, it sets up the opportunity to have some re-growth and re-birth and there are going to be gardens installed that will have interpretive elements and the possibility for tree sculptures.  It is setting the stage for some very powerful experiences where people enjoy the space.  To create a trail wide enough to enable multi-use (cycling) will in fact take away incredible chunks of the park as there isn't very much space in some areas.

Wouldn't we rather have a nice walking path that provides some opportunity for vegetation and a place to encourage the element of nature that is the gem called Fairy Lake.  It is also a closed loop path and is not like the Rail Trail.  It is a place where we are trying to create a personal experience to enjoy nature."

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"We are about to invest significant amounts of money in that park," she added, "and it's an incredible opportunity to create a legacy installation for the next 100 years.  There is no reason to have bikes in there. In various places in the province, there are parks which are garden nature areas where no bikes are allowed, such as, the Arboretum at the University of Guelph.  Let's get people off bikes in the park and have them walking.  Let's not have a 'sweet little old lady' or a child in a stroller be forced off the path into the side of the hill or potentially into the water.  There is not enough room.  There are also a number of pedestrian bridges and they need to be accessible.  The whole point of this was to make the park accessible.  The stone isn't helping.  They were never intended to be used in that format but were for the retaining wall.  This is an opportunity to recreate the park as the gem it has always been."

Councilor Mike Myette said that with the motion, Council is meddling in Town operations. "We, as Council, are trying to dictate how we are going to shape a park. I look back to the Master Plan of 2004 and we have made a pretty clear statement that we are a 'bike friendly community' and a motion is coming forward in the near future stating that.  I am really hesitant to send a message out to the community that we are shutting down a park for cyclists around a trail system.  Part of the trail system between Port Elgin and Southampton is designated for horses and what happened to the day where we had respect for one another and shared the trail.  That trail (Fairy Lake) needs to be a pedestrian-cyclist trail.  I think it can be remedied with a share-the-trail sign, cyclists  reduce your speed, dismount and walk your bike, etc.  I think we are sending the wrong message.  I think we need to say come to Saugeen Shores, use our trails, share and respect."

Councilor Neil Menage said that those who live in Southampton and closest to Fairy Lake should be consulted.  "If there isn't a 'Friends of Fairy Lake' group, there should be.  Maybe they should be looking at this.  Here we are telling staff what to do.  This is an opportunity for a sub-committee.  Perhaps, Fairy Lake should be part of the Waterfront Committee.  First and foremost, I want Southamptonites to have what they want around their Fairy Lake. I would like  staff to come back with a 'blended' report."

Councilor Don Matheson said, "If you ever walked Fairy Lake you would know it goes from four feet wide down to two feet in places.  It is a closed pathway system.  It is not part of the trail system as Councilor Myatt said.  The trails between Port Elgin and Southampton are different and this is not like that.  It is more of a nature preserve with limited access.  I am all for the biking community and am pushing for that, but this is an entirely different situation and is a closed loop."

Councilor Cheryl Grace, a member of the Accessibility Committee, said that the committee has walked the trail and members were almost run down by a cyclist. "The hope that people will share the trail is not realistic.  There are lots of places that are cycle friendly and we continue to work on that as a goal.  If this was the only way for children to get to school, that would be different but there are a lot cleaner ways to get to school.  I support the motion that this be a pedestrian path only."
Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau recommended that the motion be referred to the Recreation and Active Transportation Committee.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017