By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 22 2018
Fall foliage or rather the thousands of visitors the colourful leavesattract to the area each autumn continues to be an issue in AlgonquinHighlands township.
“So fall colours are turning out to be the bane of our existence” Mayor Carol Moffatt said during a Nov. 15 council meeting.
Councillors received a staff report detailing operations at the Dorset tower during the foliage season (colours and visitors tend to peak on Thanksgivingweekend) and another dealing with trespassing problems in Oxtongue Lake where motorists waiting to enter Algonquin Park often end up on private property.
“The number are tremendous at the tower” Moffatt said.
The staff report showed that during the last weekend of September and thefirst two weekends of October there was a combined total of more than2200 walk-up visitors to the tower nearly 1900 cars and more than 50buses through its gates.
With limited parking at the site many visitors end up parking along Highway 35 or along roadways close to the tower. To avoid paying the admissionfee some visitors park in these areas then hike up through the woods to reach the tower.
One visitor described the scene as being akin to a zombie apocalypse with hoards of people wandering through the forest.
Park rec and trails manager Chris Card told councillors that some motorists after driving past the entrance will then pull U-turns on Highway 35.
“That was the concern that someone was going to get hurt” said Moffatt.
The township had 10 staff members working at the tower during Thanksgivingweekend but Card indicated that up-staffing to 13 or 14 people wouldlikely be required to adequately handle the volume of traffic.
The township also hires paid-duty OPP officers to help manage traffic.
While the tower property has limited parking space Card noted that addingparking spaces would not allow for any more people to use the tower atany one time.
“We’ve turned vehicles away at the end of the day” he said. “If we’re adding parking we’re not adding capacity.”
Along with additional staff some of Card’s suggestions for the futureincluded additional highway signage to warn motorists of the trafficcongestion; hand stamps for visitors to eliminate instances oftrespassing through the forest; additional washrooms; increased fees tooffset increased operating costs; and contacting tour bus companiesahead of time to see what time their buses will be arriving.
Moffatt also suggested looking at a timed entry model where visitors wouldneed to book a visit to the tower in advance be given a time at whichto show up and a time limit on how long they can stay.
In Oxtongue Lake while local roads were “closed” with signage during theweeks of fall colours trespassing by visitors to Algonquin Parkcontinued.
“An area of concern was individuals trespassing on the cottage property onElliot Road at the Highway 60 Bridge” read a report from bylaw officerDave Rogers and public works director Adam Thorn. “At times there werebetween 20 to 30 persons on the private property and using the docksowned by the property owner. Staff did ask the people to leave theproperty and had a good response and no incidents occurred. There is aconcern of safety when dealing with large numbers of people whileworking alone.”
The township plans to erect actual barricades next fall in addition to the signage and staff will be looking into the cost of hiring privatesecurity to help deal with the issues in the hamlet.