By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 18 2018
Minden Hills residents near the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park are getting fed up with park visitors causing congestion by parking along roadways and in at least one case trespassing on private property.
The 89000-acre park can be accessed through locations south of Minden.
Township councillors heard two presentations from frustrated residents during an Oct. 11 committee-of-the-whole meeting. One was from Francois Gauthier and Jill Gillespie of the Devil’s Lake Cottagers’ Association.
Gillespie explained to councillors using photographs that park visitors overcrowd a roadway and parking lot to the point that it becomes very difficult to manoeuvre a boat trailer through the area. While the park has installed “no parking” signage in one area “it’s hard to monitor or police” Gillespie said. “And so we still have people parking in that area. It makes it very difficult to get turned around with a large trailer.”
Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park also known as QE2 is a non-operational park meaning that unlike operational parks such as Algonquin Park for instance it does not have infrastructure gates fees etc. and very few staff.
“What we really want to do is have transparency and have it so the Devil’s Lake Association can be involved with decisions that are made regarding parking” Gillespie said. “We determined as an association that the best route for them [park visitors] to take is to have their own access point or their own parking.”
There is a movement to have the provincial government make the park operational which means it would have a set number of camp sites fees for camping parking etc.
“That would limit the pressure the park is having right now” Gauthier told councillors.
Gillespie said the high volume of traffic also puts pressure on an ecologically sensitive area.
“And so I’m hoping we can lobby the council to pressure the Ministry of Environment Parks and Recreation to create an operational park” she said.
Mayor Brent Devolin said that Minden Hills councillors had spoken to provincial ministers at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference this past summer about the possibility of making the park operational.
“Then there would be formalized planning for access and parking and all of the types of things you’ve mentioned” Devolin said.
He added he thought that mobile technology had allowed more people to discover and access the park in recent years.
“Basically I’m hoping and the expectation is with the new [provincial] government there will be a yes or a no . . . “ Devolin said. “And either way there are things the municipality will be involved in . . . Obviously if it’s continued in a non-operational mode then certainly stresses and things that they’re putting on private and public property in the municipality need to be dealt with.”
Devolin said he’s got his fingers crossed the province will decide to make the park operational and that conversations between the township and province would continue once the new council is sworn in.
Municipal elections take place Oct. 22 with new councils sworn in later in the year.
Beer Lake cottager Suzanne Harrison told councillors that not only do lines of vehicles make visibility along Beer Lake Road poor but that people trespass and even urinate on her property ignoring and even removing cable barricades she sets up near the gates of her property.
Harrison said the township is not enforcing parking bylaws along the municipally maintained road. There is a turnaround at the end of the municipally maintained portion of the road near Harrison’s driveway.
"The turnaround here is being used as a parking lot” she told councillors referring to photographs projected onto a screen in council chambers. “There are several vehicles parked on road allowance impinging traffic. And this vehicle blocking our driveway and blocking the bottom end of Beer Lake Road doesn’t belong to us and it doesn’t belong to any of our friends.”
Harrison showed photos of multiple vehicles parked in the turnaround which she said is what the area looks like most days during the summertime.
Harrison asked for the entire length of Beer Lake Road to be marked as a no-parking zone with parking a towable offence.
She also said her property including culverts has been damaged as a result of traffic. While at one time the township would tow people from the other Harrison said that no longer happens and the township is not enforcing parking lots.
“They now use our driveway as a turnaround” she told council. “Some of them open our gates coming in to our first barn which is about 150 metres from the road to turn around their long trailers.”
Harrison said vehicles are sometimes left for days or weeks unattended.
At one point Harrison and her husband strung clothesline cable across their driveway to keep people out.
“And remarkably people take the cable down” she said showing a captured image of a man taking down the cable. “I don’t know this person.”
“This resulted in us putting a lock on the cable” Harrison said adding the cable was then completely ripped out by someone with a pickup truck.
They then put up a chain with a lock and people proceeded to lift up the chain allowing vehicles to pass underneath.
“Our kids can’t ride their bikes in the turnaround without worrying about getting run over and now they have to watch as vehicles come in their own driveway” said Harrison who brought legal counsel with her.
“This person here he’s using our bush as a bathroom” she said showing another image of what appears to be a man urinating along the treeline. “So that’s another thing our personal bush has become their toilet.”
Devolin reiterated that what actions the township takes to address the problems will depend upon whether the province makes the park operational or not.
“From a municipal perspective you may find it worthwhile to consult your municipal insurer municipal legal counsel to see if there’s potential municipal liability” lawyer Jim Webster said bringing up an example of emergency vehicles being unable to pass down the road if it’s obstructed by vehicles.
“We’re well aware of risk mitigation” Devolin said.
Councillor Jean Neville said bylaw enforcement was an issue.
“It’s increasingly becoming an issue not just for parking and things like that but for noise and fireworks and that sort of thing” Neville said adding the municipality’s response is that its bylaw staff do not work weekends.
“I think the next council better look at having some kind of schedule where the bylaw [department] works at least into the evening hours and on weekends because this is cottage country and this is when most of the infractions happen and we aren’t prepared to do anything about it” Neville said.
Councillor Pam Sayne Sayne agreed that lack of bylaw enforcement is an issue.
“The fact that we have bylaws and we have formal complaints coming in and they’re not being responded to that’s quite a concern” said Sayne. “And so I wonder if that’s just the tip of the iceberg or if there’s more situations like this. And so what I think we need to do is get a report back from our bylaw enforcement through our CAO and find out why bylaws aren’t being enforced.”
Sayne agreed with Devolin that social media has contributed to the problems around QE2 since more people are aware of its existence.
“I can’t help but wonder if the urgency to provide access for emergency vehicles should come to the top of our agenda immediately” said Councillor Jeanne Anthon. “If I lived in that area and knew I couldn’t get an ambulance I would be suing the municipality.”