/AH plans for fall colours traffic, despite tower closure

AH plans for fall colours traffic, despite tower closure

By Chad Ingram   While the Dorset tower in Algonquin Highlands remains closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the township is still preparing to control traffic as leaf-lookers make their way to the area to check out fall foliage in coming weeks.   The tower, a popular seasonal tourist site for the municipality, draws thousands upon thousands of visitors each fall to take in the seasonal colours. In recent years, the township has hired paid duty police officers as well as a private firm to help control the large volumes of traffic, which are particularly problematic near the entranceway to the tower, as well as in the hamlet of Oxtongue Lake.   “The big difference this year is, as you’re aware, the tower is closed and will remain closed through the fall colour season,” parks, rec and trails manager Chris Card told councillors during an online meeting on Sept. 3. “However, I do anticipate that there is still going to be a significant amount of traffic and people are heading towards the tower, and potentially trying to get into the tower.”   People have continued to enter the tower property this summer, despite it being closed.
“We have, throughout the tower closure with COVID, seen that road barricades and signage, people go around it, through it, over it, and still go in,” Card said. “We’ve since installed a locking gate and door system on the tower structure itself, on the stairways, so once people are on the property, they can’t get in.”   He said he was concerned that during the weekends that are typically the busiest with fall colours traffic – the last couple of weekends of September and the first couple in October – regardless of what messaging the township might put out, that people would still be showing up, and traffic would still have to be managed.
“For the tower, I’m suggesting that we carry on with the traffic management plan, where we put paid duty OPP down at the highway on the weekends that we know to be busy,” Card said, “And through the week, we monitor and staff it as needed.”   “The second piece to this puzzle is the Oxtongue Lake area, where annually we’re putting in road closures during several weekends for the fall colours,” Card said. Oxtongue Lake experiences issues of traffic congestion and trespassing – including in some instances people urinating on private properties – during the fall colours weekends.
“So last year we very successfully implemented some staffing in those locations through a staffing agency at those closures on the October long weekend, on Thanksgiving, so I’d like to approach that the exact same way,” Card said, “the only change there is adding some washrooms that would be available for those staff who are there.”   Card had $40,000 in his departmental budget allotted for fall colours traffic control at the tower, and a report indicated expected costs of approximately $27,000 for paid duty police officers as well as outhouses for them to use. For Oxtongue Lake, $3,700 had been budgeted, and a report indicated costs for two traffic controllers as well as outhouses to total approximately $4,800.   Councillor Jennifer Dailloux, noting that Thanksgiving comes a bit later in October this year, wondered if most of the foliage was gone by that time, if the township will still be obligated to pay those costs.
“We’re not locked in, so we could call them off, absolutely,” Card said.