• A Perspective
Wondering what the fuss over Wilkins Beach is all about? If you haven’t been to this sandy haven on the south shore of the bay, have a trek down there and find out for yourself. It is indeed, as described by numerous individuals, a jewel of a spot, most worthy of protecting.
The beach has been in the news since last summer when it was swarmed by out-of-towners seeking to escape COVID-19 restrictions in their regions south of here, problems encountered at other Barrie beaches, leading to a ban on BBQs and tents at Barrie’s waterfront parks and beaches. The small sandy beach, mostly a neighbourhood retreat, is zoned environmentally protected (EP) and the summer crowds only exacerbated the ongoing damage to Hewitt’s Creek that flows into the bay by the beach, highlighting the need to protect it.
The creek area is a cold-water fishery, turtle hatchery, and habitat to snakes, frogs, minnows, and assorted fauna. While the push to maintain the area may have been driven by concerns raised last summer about crowding and waste-related issues, current zoning does not allow a designated beach at Wilkins Park. As such, zoning compliance was required. That happened this week when council adopted the BBQ/tent ban and agreed to delist Wilkins beach.
“It is the EP zoning that is requiring the City to delist Wilkins as a beach and restore Wilkins Park to allow it to regenerate to its natural state over time. In addition, the approved Waterfront & Marina Strategic Plan recommends that the City ensures that key natural heritage features are retained and protected along the south shore, including the open creek systems such as Hewitt’s Creek that drain into the bay,” reads a staff memo.
Residents mobilized to save beloved beach
When area residents got wind that they may lose the beach as the locale went through the process of reverting to a more natural state, they mobilized. The ward’s councillor, Mike McCann, said he heard from many constituents anxious about the fate of their beloved beach. It’s tempting to see the eventual outcome as a win over City Hall, but it really wasn’t much of a fight as the memo had clarified that the beach would not disappear.
“The proposed plan can accommodate retention of a partial sandy area although it will not be maintained in any way. This will give the experience of a naturalized shoreline area for passive enjoyment after the restoration work is completed in 2021,” it read.
Music to the ears of area residents, and indeed to all those who call Barrie home.
“A lot has progressed since I met with councillor McCann … and I’m at a bit of a loss for words but am encouraged in terms of the direction that we seem to be going,” said resident Gary Ray in his deputation. “We love the ability to walk down to the beach and take a swim … we bring friends and relatives and are very respectful in terms of making sure we don’t make noise and leave garbage, etc.”
Carolyn Ray said residents were having a “freak-out” that they were going to lose their “dear, sweet beach that we adore.”
So, the beach is to be delisted, which means it will be scrubbed from the City’s website as an active beach, and no longer promoted as such in tourism material. It’s hoped that, and other measures like the BBQ/tent ban, tightened parking restrictions, and heightened enforcement will substantially reduce, if not erase, non-resident use of the sandy shoreline, part of Wilkins Park.
Residents in spillover parking zones to get ‘friends and family pass’ – signs will have towing warning, but no towing will actually occur
Speaking of parking, council also adopted a ‘friends and family’ parking pass that residents can use to accommodate the loss of on-street parking due to spillover from waterfront lots into residential neighbourhoods. On-street parking within 500 metres of a waterfront access point was prohibited, except for vehicles displaying a valid Resident Waterfront Parking Pass.
Eligible households, those in the impacted neighbourhoods, will receive five passes, each good for one day-use from June 15 to Sept. 15. The original intent was for it to apply only to households near Wilkins Park, but other councillors with beaches in their wards successfully lobbied for the same benefit for their constituents. As well as the Wilkins area, Centennial Park & Beach, Johnson’s Beach, Minet’s Point Park & Beach, and Tyndale Park & Beach will be included in the program, at an estimated cost of $5,000.
The use of the passes will be conditional on COVID-related public health measures that may be in place during the summer.
A towing provision for those not in compliance with the requirement to display a resident parking pass in waterfront spillover zones was discussed, but ultimately dismissed over fears Barrie residents who forgot their pass would be fined and towed.
“There’s going to be the teenager coming from Midhurst to visit a friend. They are going to forget a special pass …. and they are going to have their car towed and someone is going to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars. A $100 (parking) fine is bad enough, but it’s really expensive when they get their car towed,” said Ward 4 councillor Barry Ward.
So, the solution that council came up with is to install no-parking signs warning that cars not displaying valid parking passes will be towed, but not actually to do any towing, hoping the signs will be enough to deter illegal parking. Last year signs in spillover zones indicated resident-only parking; this year the towing notice will be added, but only in the Wilkins Park area for a one-year pilot program.
Protective fencing along creek to be installed, Save the Turtles and ambassador programs planned
Fencing will also be installed at sensitive areas along Hewitt’s Creek to protect the aforementioned wildlife and fauna, and anyone hopping the fence into the creek will be met with a zero-tolerance approach from bylaw enforcement, with tickets handed out rather than warnings. The fence, however, will not impede the movement of turtles, just people, council was told.
“Fencing the creek … isn’t a want, it’s a need. This area has been trampled a lot by human footprints, but also just by natural erosion. We need this area to breathe, and whether that’s temporary for a year or it takes two years, this is something that needs to get done,” said McCann.
He also convinced council to support a Save the Turtles program.
“The sandy beach … will remain open. It will be a large portion, enough for friends and family to enjoy the beach and go for a swim. The trails will remain open and, most importantly, (we will be) preserving the wildlife and the fauna – the minnows, snakes, frogs (and turtles).”
An ambassador-type adopt-a-park program is also being discussed, allowing residents, organizations, businesses, and groups to voluntarily assist in the maintenance of parks, trails, and beaches. “I love the term ambassador … it’s such a positive approach to problems,” said Gary Ray.
So, at the end of the day it seems everyone got something: area, and city, residents still have their beach, the environment is being protected, and measures to control crowds are being implemented.
“I think it was councillor (Jim) Harris who said that this is one of the most breathtaking spots in Barrie, and it is, so we need to protect that by stopping the flow of people so this area can breathe,” said McCann. “Even though this is delisted as a beach … I think that having a beach area even though it won’t be maintained like it has been in the past is a real win, win, win: a win for the environment, a win for the City, and the biggest win for Ward 10 residents.”