"It's ridiculous," said an exasperated Lisa Heckbert of the frustrating parking situation in her Newmarket neighbourhood near the Jokers Hill trail on Bathust Street.
"This has become a really big issue because they are parking everywhere," she said. "It's gotten to the point that someone in the neighbourhood has put up signs (telling non-residents to not park there)."
The parking lot on Bathurst that provides access to the popular hiking trail was barricaded at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic by the University of Toronto, which owns and manages the Koffler Scientific Reserve at Jokers Hill and surrounding 348 hectares of fields, wetlands, grasslands, and forest lands in King Township.
However, with the trail itself remaining open, and trail use skyrocketing throughout the pandemic, it has resulted in congested parking along Bathurst, in the nearby school and plaza parking lots, and on the side streets in the adjacent neighbourhood of townhouses at Bathurst and Keith Avenue.
Kate Brown, station manager for the Koffler Scientific Reserve at Jokers Hill and trail manager for the University of Toronto, responded to questions about why the barriers were put up and when they might be removed by providing a links to posts on the trail system's Facebook page.
The posts noted the University of Toronto has reduced operational capacity to 25 per cent of its normal operations due to the pandemic, and therefore isn't in a position to reopen the parking lot.
"All of the attendant issues of reopening this parking lot — crowding, overuse, garbage, trespassing on our neighbours' properties, rampant off-leash dog use, bikers, vandalism of research sites, confrontations between dogs and/or their humans — are incompatible with the university reopening process and safety plans, as well as Koffler Scientific Reserve's mission," the post states.
The post directs people to park at a nearby plaza or St. Nicholas Catholic Elementary School.
Newmarket resident Alex Sasha, who regularly enjoys using the trail to walk with her leashed dog, encouraged the university to reopen the parking lot.
"What's happening now is people are parking on the side of Bathurst creating a very dangerous situation as that is a busy road with cars flying 70+ km/hr. Also, people are resorting to parking in the commercial development just south of the entrance, which already doesn't have a lot of parking spots and I'm sure those businesses will soon raise hell also," she posted on the Facebook page.
"So basically, people are still going to this trail in similar volumes but are just finding others places to park. Please open this parking lot so we can enjoy the outdoors at this very difficult time."
She said she would even be willing to pay a small fee to use the trails, adding, "Surely there is a solution for the above mentioned issues that other trails in Ontario have solved."
Region of York bylaws do not forbid parking along Bathurst or on nearby residential streets, and spokesperson Tamara Ostrowski said no formal complaints have been made about the parking situation on the well-travelled regional road.
The region provided a few safety tips for hikers parking on Bathurst:
- Ensure you drive onto the shoulder of the road and not on the travelled area
- Never park on a curve, hill or anywhere you do not have a clear view of at least 125 metres in both directions
- Do not park where you will block a sidewalk, crosswalk, pedestrian crossing, road entrance or another vehicle.
- Never open the door of your parked vehicle without first making sure you will not endanger any other person or vehicle or interfere with traffic
Video footage courtesy of Lisa Heckbert