Keeping up with the beaches

Posted by on December 6, 2011 at 11:35 pm.

Sandbanks is a popular place, and one of the County’s biggest tourism draws. That should be a good thing, but it seems to be going the wrong way.

“I find it to be quite dirty and not really very pleasant to go,” said Robyn Cakebread, owner of the Regent Café in Picton. “I don’t know if it’s the number of people that they have there, probably it is, and the number of cottages around there, but I don’t feel good about telling my customers to go there.

“I had people here from Italy today who were wanting to go there, and they were asking me, would there be room to put up a sun umbrella, and I had to tell them that there would be—at the beach that was posted— but probably not at the other beach that wasn’t posted. It’s a lovely place to explore and walk around, but for spending the day at the beach, it’s not very nice.”

Monica McDonald of Toronto camped at the Sandbanks with her family at the start of August. She said the campgrounds were clean, but that the day use areas were simply too crowded to be kept tidy.

“I went to the dunes for about three hours, and then I left because of the crowds, because they were just ridiculous,” said McDonald. “I was only on the beach where the campers were allowed, and that beach was fine for cleanliness, but there wasn’t a garbage can as far as the eye can see. But the public beach, I wouldn’t even go there, because it was an absolute zoo.”

But while McDonald didn’t have too much to complain about on the beach, she did mention that the maintenance of the outdoor washrooms at the campsites was lacking.

“The other issue is that the outhouses, [of] which there were many, spread out over the campsites. I saw the cleaning truck there on Monday and I didn’t see it there for the rest of the week. And it was disgusting. If you just walked on the road past the kybos, it reeked. The beaches were fine, the kybos were horrible.”

The state of the beaches has even been acknowledged publicly. During a council meeting, Athol Ward Councillor Jamie Forrester referred to the Sandbanks as an example of a lacking maintenance budget at provincial parks.

“I don’t know if anyone’s been to the Sandbanks lately,” Forrester commented to the Committee of the Whole. “Garbage on the beach—they don’t have the staff or the money to look after that provincial park and we’re talking about creating another one. It’s just escaping me.”

Some visitors have commented that dirty washrooms near the beaches and campsites are a real turnoff.

Forrester, who also owns and operates Log Cabin Point with his wife, Connie, says his guests frequently express their displeasure at the mess in the park.

“I’ve had people mention to me that there’s a lot more garbage left on the beach, people were seen drinking, with beer bottles on the beach,” said Forrester. “It’s interesting. We have OPP patrols everywhere, and years ago if you were seen with a beer bottle they’d ding you left right and centre.”

Forrester clarified that he doesn’t blame the park management, but rather tight budgets that restrict staff, a problem in all sectors.

“Over the years, there’s more garbage left on the beach… and I don’t think there’s the manpower there to handle the kind of things that go on there,” Forrester speculated.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) agrees that garbage has increased, but says poor staffing isn’t the issue.

“There has been a rise in garbage over the years because usage of the park has increased too much. Basically there are four staff who pick up garbage in the beach and in the parking lot, and other maintenance staff assist as needed. It sounds like they’ve got a fair number of people out there,” said Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer for the MNR, speaking on behalf of Park Superintendent Don Bucholtz, who was on vacation this week. “Park visitation has doubled in the last 30 years. I can’t tell you if the garbage containment has doubled in the last 30 years.”

Kowalski also suggested that a lack of personal responsibility on the part of the visitors had a huge impact, not only in the Sandbanks, but everywhere, in terms of an increase in littering.

Kowalski was unable to comment on the reason that the beaches have become dirtier, despite ongoing maintenance. She did mention that supplemental events like the Friends of the Sandbanks’ annual Trash Bash help keep excess garbage at bay.

Kowalski also pointed out that a licensed landfill, inspected annually by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and located as far as possible from the water in the boundaries of the park, helps keep down the cost and manpower needed to clean up. So do more advanced methods of recycling used by park staff today.

“There have been hydrogeological studies done to make sure nothing has been leached from the site,” Kowalski reported.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that the popularity of the three Sandbanks beaches does come at a dirty price.

“Sandbanks is the big draw here,” said Forrester. “Has been for 30 years, and I guess it will continue to be.”

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