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Bruce Trail Conservancy weighs in on trailhead parking dilemma

The group has plans to install a new parking lot in each of its nine sections

After a busy year on the trails, the Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC) agrees there is a need for more parking facilities near trailheads. 

“COVID-19 has magnified opportunities and challenges that were already present – including parking. The BTC has plans to install a new parking lot in each of the nine BTC sections in order to help accommodate parking needs,” said Elizabeth Harrington, director of communications and engagement for the BTC.

The Bruce Trail stretches from Queenston in Niagara-on-the-Lake to Tobermory in Bruce County and as such the BTC partners with several municipalities across the province in order to collaborate on the management of the trails and their amenities. 

At a recently held council meeting, the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) CAO, Shawn Everitt said that he has been in communication with the BTC and discussions around parking amenities in TBM are ongoing. 

“My suggestion to them was it's great that they can offer walking and hiking, but it really is time for them to step up and start providing amenities such as parking,” Everitt said.

“Right now, the trails are there, but the fingers are getting pointed at the municipalities to provide all the amenities for parking and washrooms,” he continued. 

The two local BTC chapters include the Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club, which stretches from Lavender to Craigleith, and the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail Club, which runs from Craigleith to Blantyre. 

Councillor Cathy Little from the municipality of Grey Highlands, which has also been struggling with parking issues, said there are a number of groups looking at how additional parking could be established, including Grey Highlands council and staff at Grey County.

“There probably isn't just one solution to all of this. But, people are actively working on this and because it is such a broad problem, I think there could be some best practices and shared information that will be helpful coming forward,” Little said at a recent committee of the whole meeting.  

Harrington would not specify further as to where the new parking lots would be located but added that this is something the board is looking at closely. 

The conservancy does not track attendance on the Bruce Trail or any of its side trails but according to Harrington there has been an obvious pandemic-related onslaught of visitors to Ontario’s natural regions, which has put a strain on trails and their amenities. 

“One outcome of COVID-19 is the pandemic has reignited Ontarians' love for the great outdoors – including visitation to the Bruce Trail,” Harrington said. “The BTC has received reports of increased traffic since the onset of the pandemic from our landowners and hikers.” 

She added that the increased visitation has magnified both opportunities and challenges that were already present, including trail management. 

“Overcrowding, threats to the natural environment, and threats to landowner relationships are to name a few,” she said. 

The BTC has a Trail Users Code, which Harrington encourages anyone who is planning a trip to the Bruce Trail to review before they head out - locally. 

“Our philosophy is centred around our mission, where we provide nature-based experiences while also protecting the sensitive species and habitats along the Niagara Escarpment. Therefore, positive trail user behaviour is critical,” she said. 

“For example, hiking along the marked routes, avoiding ‘off-trail’ use will ensure that sensitive vegetation is not damaged, and relationship with private landowners who graciously allow the Bruce Trail on their property is not strained,” Harrington continued. 

She also encourages all trail users to stay informed of COVID- 19 updates as they pertain to the Bruce Trail: https://brucetrail.org/pages/news-events/covid-19-updates