By Chad Ingram
The Township of Algonquin Highlands intends to open the Dorset tower property to the public this spring, although not the tower itself amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, and how entry fees might be revised accordingly was discussed by council during a March 4 online meeting.
The township did not open the tower property to the public at all in 2020 amid the pandemic, but plans to open the property to the public this spring, with its gift shop and the Peek-A-Boo Rock lookout available to the public beginning May 17.
Due to requirements for sanitization, social distancing, etc. that would be difficult to maintain, the tower structure itself will remain closed to visitors.
“Of course, the main attraction of the tower property is the tower itself,” said parks, rec and trails manager Chris Card. It had been the recommendation of the township’s emergency operations centre, tasked with making operational decisions amid the continuing pandemic, that admission fees be reduced by 25 per cent in light of the tower remaining closed.
Card noted that while this would mean a reduction in revenues, “all of our costs, all of our staffing, would remain the same.”
“As we know, it’s an EOC decision, this is just being brought forward as a courtesy,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt. The EOC, comprised largely of senior staff members and chaired by chief administrative officer Angie Bird, remains at the helm of operational decisions in the township as it remains in a state of emergency amid the pandemic.
“Really, the tower is the greatest attraction,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen, suggesting that maybe admission rates should be reduced to half.
Moffatt reiterated that, “If it’s open at all, we’re still bearing 100 per cent of the costs.” Other councillors agreed that the tower remaining closed should mean a further reduction in admission fees, and that suggestion will be sent back to the EOC.
The tower is a popular tourist destination throughout the summer, but attendance peaks when the fall colours do each season, attracting thousands upon thousands of visitors to the site. In recent years, the township has hired paid-duty police officers and a private security firm to help manage traffic and crowds, at a cost of approximately $30,000. Councillor Jennifer Dailloux wondered if whether having significant signage indicating the tower itself remained closed might mean the township could forgo these expenses.
“There was still a bit of a circus at the tower last year, when it was closed,” Moffatt said. The township had still paid for traffic control, and Card said some trespassing charges were laid.
“We had traffic barricades in place, we had numerous signs in place,” he said, reiterating it was his recommendation to still hire police and security whether or not the tower itself was open.
“People were upset last year, completely understandably, that the tower wasn’t available to them at all,” said Moffatt, adding the township was trying to provide people with something to do amid the continuing restrictions of the pandemic. “ … It sounds like a really simple decision, but it’s not.”