By Chad Ingram
Minden Hills councillors have agreed the township will maintain a long-standing public access to Gull Lake at the end of Murdoch Road, improving signage at the location as well as accessibility to the site.
Council received a report regarding conflicts at the location during a Feb. 1 online meeting. As that report indicated, following conflicts between users of the public access and surrounding private property owners in 2018 and 2019, a survey of the area was conducted. That survey determined that the location that had been traditionally used to access the lake was actually on private property slightly east of the township-owned land.
“That access has been fenced off,” chief administrative officer Trisha McKibbin told councillors, adding that the township has undertaken no work to improve the site it owns, which includes a steep hill and some trees. Some trees have been removed by members of the public at the township-owned site, and a shed that was placed on the public property by a private property owner has been removed. The township has received correspondence from abutting property owners asking that the public access be permanently closed, and recent letters to the editor said concrete barricades had been placed at the site by township staff. The site is used to launch and access ice huts during the winter.
Councillor Bob Carter said he’d like to see a response from the township’s insurance provider regarding municipal liability, but saw no reason the township should be closing the public access. “I see this as very similar to a lot of other accesses across the municipality,” Carter said.
Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell, who chaired the Feb. 1 meeting in the absence of Mayor Brent Devolin, agreed, noting there are other public access spots with steep declines into the water, and that people manage to traverse them.
“We all do it and have for many years,” Schell said.
The letter from the abutting property owners noted they’ve installed a security camera and the letter indicated that, in addition to footage of trespassing, they had footage of people stumbling on the hill.
“I’m sure that happens at a lot of access routes,” said Councillor Jean Neville, who agreed there was no reason for the township to close the access.
“It must be necessary at this point on the lake,” Neville said, noting that it is well-used. “I don’t see how it is different from the majority of them, that have been historically used.”
“This has been a long-standing issue, so what we’re seeing is a lot of conflict,” said Councillor Pam Sayne, whose ward includes Gull Lake. “Private property owners had their shed on our public land.” Sayne said she’d like to see better signage at the site with regard to expectations for use, and hoped there could be a more respectful relationship between members of the public using the site and abutting property owners.
“That access to Gull Lake has been there for decades,” said Schell, agreeing there was no reason to close it. Schell added that members of the public should not be cutting down trees on public property. “We would not tolerate people going down to Rotary Park and cutting down trees,” she said, adding it would be up to the township to complete that work.
A staff report regarding year-round signage and maintenance options for the property will come back to council.