Bruce County closes trails to prevent gatherings of groups of people

Hikers walk a trail in Bruce County.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep businesses and facilities closed and people at home, some more popular outdoor spaces are now closing.

Bruce County announced on Wednesday morning that it was closing all county-owned trails effective immediately.

“We’re taking this measure to limit the risk of coming into close contact with other people in public areas,” Miguel Pelletier, Bruce County’s Director of Transportastion and Environmental Services, said in a news release. “This is the time to stay at home, practice social distancing and help flatten the curve of COVID-19.”

Among the trails affected are the Carrick Tract Trails, Lindsay Tract trails, Lindsay Tract trails, Brant Tract trails, Kinloss Tract trails, Culross Tract trails, Amabel Tract trails, the Mountain Bike Adventure Park, and the Bruce County Rail Trail.

Pelletier said the decision to close the trails was made by the county’s emergency control group to prevent the gathering of large groups of people.

He wasn’t aware if they were seeing any more people actually using the trails, but the main reason for the closure is to prevent people from gathering in groups. He said some people will say that they go on the trails all the time and never meet anyone, which is possible, but county staff have observed groups of people in parking lots and on some of the trails.

The public is being barred from entering the trails or parking areas until further notice, and trail maintenance will cease. It is unclear when the trails will reopen, the release said.

Pelletier admitted there wasn’t a lot of notice on the closings and some people who showed up at trails on Wednesday morning were turned away.

The move came after Parks Canada announced several days ago that all land within the Bruce Peninsula National Park to the north and east of Highway 6 has been closed. The area includes the Cyprus Lake and Grotto areas, Halfway Log Dump and Little Cove. The Bruce Trail within the park, the visitor centre and all other facilities are also shuttered.

In Grey County, spokesperson Rob Hatten said via e-mail early Wednesday afternoon that all of its trails remained open.

“We understand crowding is a concern to social distancing recommendations, but so far we aren’t aware of issues on our properties,” Hatten said. “If it becomes a problem, or if our contracted trails managers become unable to patrol the trails and ensure their safety, we may need to reconsider.”

Grey County is highly encouraging all users to follow Public Health’s best practices and avoid large groups and maintain social distancing of at least two metres from other trail users, Hatten’s e-mail said.

Municipal leaders of some local municipalities, including those in Northern Bruce Peninsula, South Bruce Peninsula and Saugeen Shores, have expressed concern about the visitors flocking to their natural attractions including trails and beaches during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have been asking those who are not from the area to stay home and are emphasizing that they are welcome back when the situation improves.

The Grey Sauble Conservation Authority’s Spirit Rock and Eugenia Falls conservation areas remain closed after the winter, with access prohibited under the Trespass to Property Act.

While other GSCA properties were remaining open, they were not being maintained until further notice and users were asked to use their discretion and enter at their own risk.

“In order to keep these properties open to the public, we ask that visitors implement social distancing practices and do not overcrowd popular GSCA lands, as there are many great properties to choose from,” GSCA said in a statement on its webpage.

GSCA Chief Administrative Officer Tim Lanthier said via e-mail that no facilities or gates will be opened at any of their properties until the COVID-19 situation has passed in order to keep the public and GSCA staff safe, and to respect the recent Provincial Order related to essential services.

“We see conservation areas as a great place for people to get out into nature and maybe find some solace,” Lanthier said. “However, large turnouts of visitors will negatively impact this goal and will directly our ability to keep our trails open.”

Lanthier said GSCA will continue to assess the situation and may close the remainder of the properties if deemed appropriate or necessary.

Meanwhile, Saugeen Conservation has said the trails at its conservation areas will remain open for watershed residents for uses such as hiking and nature appreciation.

The public was being asked to refrain from using playground equipment and the washrooms at Sulphur Spring and Allan Park conservation areas were closed. People were also being asked not to utilize picnic shelters for gatherings of any kind.

Grey Bruce Health Unit spokesperson Drew Ferguson said people are still being encouraged to get outside for their physical and mental wellbeing, but to practice social distancing when outdoors.

And he added that people should be remaining close to their homes and eliminating all non-essential travel.

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