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Local conservation areas yet to follow provincial parks in reopening

Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Areas have not set a date for reopening; 520 provincial parks and conservation reserves opened May 11, and the remaining 115 will open Friday for limited activities
Scanlon Creek, which is owned by Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, remains closed, along with other local conservation areas. Rosaleen Egan for BradfordToday

Those wanting to access nature in some of their local conservation areas, such as Scanlon Creek Conservation Area in Bradford-West Gwillimbury, may be disappointed to find they remain closed. 

Some confusion exists following the announcement by Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff Yurek, on Saturday that 520 provincial parks and conservation reserves across the province would open May 11, and the remaining 115 will open this upcoming Friday for limited day-use activities.

“It is important to note that the province is addressing those lands owned and managed by the province (provincial parks and conservation reserves). This announcement does not apply to conservation areas which are properties owned by local conservation authorities, including Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA)”, said Brian Kemp, general manager – conservation lands LSRCA.

The LSRCA  knows how important access to nature is for community health and well-being. Kemp says, “We are working on a plan that will allow us to reopen some properties for limited day use, while remaining focused on the health and safety of our staff and the community. The plan will happen in stages with no confirmed timeline at this point.  We look forward to welcoming visitors back as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Kemp says it was difficult to make the initial decision to close the conservation areas but felt it was a necessary action that supported the direction of municipal partners, as well as the federal and provincial government asking for people to stay at home to help “flatten the curve”. 

A number of critical steps need to take place by LSRCA before visitors can once again enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of being in nature. Preparations include:

  • Assessing over 120 kilometres of trails for hazards and safety concerns
  • Removing closure barriers (barricades) and closure signage with the assistance of our municipal partners
  • Changing park signage, ensuring that we provide clear and concise messages regarding social distancing and related restrictions
  • Performing enhanced maintenance, monitoring and cleaning operations with the assistance of our municipal partners
  • Coordinating our changing parks status with municipal partner authorities (police, bylaw).

There are nearly 300 conservation areas in Ontario managed by Conservation Authorities that are community-based watershed management agencies. According to Conservation Ontario “95 percent of Ontarians live in a watershed managed by a Conservation Authority.” 

The authorities are mandated “to undertake watershed-based programs to protect people and property from flooding, and other natural hazards, and to conserve natural resources for economic, social and environmental benefits”. 

It will be necessary to check the website of your local conservation authority or watch for announcements to determine when it will be safe to enter those areas.

Ontario Parks manages 340 provincial parks and 295 conservation reserves covering over nine million hectares of land in the province.

The purpose of conservation reserves owned and managed by the Province of Ontario, is to: “Protect significant natural and cultural features while providing opportunities for a variety of compatible traditional activities (e.g. fishing, hunting, trapping). Regulated under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, they are also important for scientific research and environmental monitoring.”

To find an Ontario Park or Conservation Reserve near you click here

For a list of Conservation Authorities and Areas near you click here.

— Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, storyteller, and playwright. She blogs on her website