Piping plover at Sauble Beach © Joshua Wise

Dear Editor,

In a day and age where money basically runs society it’s surprising just how many people can afford to travel. Thanks partly to online “deal finders” and the low Canadian dollar, visitors have all the more incentive to stay north of the border this summer season. But is this an issue?

It is apparent that within an outstanding three short years, the area of Grey-Bruce has been recognized by the public in Ontario even more. Popularity in the area has skyrocketed from being a “too long of a drive” to being “totally worth every kilometre”. It is quite funny how the paradigm towards our area has changed for most Torontonians. Any hot summer weekend, one can clearly see the volume of north bound traffic skyrocket heading to Sauble Beach on Highway 10, or Tobermory bound on Highway 6, while the out bounding traffic south is a sparse vehicle or two.

Local clerks, business owners, economists and politicians have been “jumping for joy”. It is undoubtedly a great accomplishment for the local economy, Chamber groups, and small business owners. The demographic being mainly young. families with children aged 2 to12 have time and reason to spend in local downtown shops, thus increasing revenue for everyone in the town and creating a better economy for the residents of the area. However, does a busy tourist season come by without its consequences? Absolutely not.

The towns of rural Ontario suddenly get shocked with a swell in population the moment Canada Day arrives. As one can imagine, this makes for treacherous driving conditions with the volume and impatience of people on small, rural roadways. It also strains a village or town in that residents may have to suffer by paying higher prices for items that would usually cost a dollar or two cheaper in the city. Resident of Sauble Beach, Marjorie Tite agrees that money is an issue in a tourist town such as Sauble Beach. “There certainly is [an issue] the town is tourist based, so that [higher prices] is always going to be a factor.” Mrs, Tite states. Karen Currie of Baie Du Dore also agrees that there is a problem with higher prices, especially during the peak months. “Prices do tend to increase with the people. Some items are unattainable when this season is in full swing.”

The environment is the most effected element when it comes to mass crowds in a tourist hot spot. With the amount of people staying in the campgrounds of the Bruce Peninsula National Park plus the day trippers that are parking in lots, it is safe to say that the park’s famous shoreline will be anything but serene. When you have large groups of city people coming for the week, a couple of days, or even just an afternoon to visit one place, you can expect the volume or population in that one spot to explode. The trails heading in and out of Indian Head Cove or Singing Sands has grown wider; precious, wild trilliums and ecologically significant species have been forced to migrate further inland, away from the main trails and in some parts, garbage lines the floor instead of a dusting of pine needle or leaves. The cold, pristine waters of Georgian Bay, being used to little or no disturbances is being stirred up by crowds of people wading. Fish, amphibians etc., that used to spawn close to shore have been scared away. People enter the waters with jewelry and sunglasses which accidentally fall off and sink to the rocky bottom like rubbish. For this, we are lucky that at least our small town pride and sense of community has not diminished. We salute the annual efforts of volunteer groups such as Scrub The Tub that do their complete best to try and reverse the effects of tourists.

In the south, the same issue occurs. The towns of Sauble Beach or Southampton are relatively small so that when the tourists arrive in large numbers on either very hot, nice days or weekends it is very shocking for the residents that call the places their home. The high water levels have taken much of Sauble’s sandy space away leaving people with only about six feet of lounging space at its downtown parking location. People trample over each other to get in and out of the water just like at some other busy beaches across the province. One can easily say that they have never seen the amount of people at the Main Beach that high until a few years ago. The intersection at Lakeshore BLD and Main ST have become so dangerous, you might think you were crossing a highway. At the end of each day, people leave all sorts of things behind, buried in the sand. Garbage bags of garbage, paper plates and cutlery, likely from a beach picnic, broken flip flops, umbrellas, tents, unclaimed bathing attire, and the list goes on and on.

Hundreds pack Indian Head Cove with entire entourages of groups coming in with barbeques, tents, massive floatation devices, large coolers etc. Many groups of younger people leave so much garbage and broken glass from beer bottles up on cliffs of the escarpment that it poses a health hazard. When any given town’s carrying capacity is over its limit it can leave some unlucky people without accommodations if they did not book in advance. People without places to sleep or stay the night can grow restless and start fiascos in public just like what was the issue at Wasaga Beach on the May 2/4. It is also dangerous when one must trample over rows of parked people, sitting on the ground to get in and out of the water. One would have to trample over everyone else’s belongings and if there were to be an underwater emergency, it would be too late. It boils down to safety; times have changed. It’s time to stop allowing bulky tents, umbrellas, large coolers and such. People’s tents, coolers and barbecues take up all the space. The time of going to one of Ontario’s most ecologically diverse nature spots to enjoy the beauty and peace and quiet of nature are over. Local Karen Currie says the crowds often double as safety hazards and don’t tend to obey local land boundaries or laws. “One person on a seadoo was charged for Waking and causing an accident in an area were it’s prohibited and off boundaries in the first place. Those people [boaters] also leave behind their garbage, and don’t obey the water rules, safety or respect of others and property. It’s extremely dangerous when there are a lot of sun bathers on the beach and people out on the water don’t keep a respectable speed. When I used to go to The Beautiful Sauble Beach, mounts of garbage bags next to tourists tents, campers. [I try to] never attend the great beaches in tourist season.”

Tourism in Ontario has become an appalling game. With Ontario housing the vast majority of Canada’s population and some of the most premier vacation spots in North America, it is a struggle for each municipality to promote their area equally, thus, creating a tension and competition between each area. Muskoka VS Kawartha Lakes; Simcoe VS Grey; Bruce VS Lambton etc. When can one say enough is enough? When can we stop focusing on drawing other people in when we can be focusing on the lives, health and future of our current taxpayers? Showcase Ontario as a whole. The lakes, the diverse culture, the land, the heritage… Don’t split the province into sections! Unfortunately, social media is to blame for most of this as more and more people that would not normally visit the area are catching on.

Getting back to the main question, “Is tourism too accessible?” the answer is undoubtedly “Yes!.” One can walk into any tourist information centre and see people asking questions left, right and centre about every and any tourism spot in the area. It hits you there, like a ton of bricks, how this area is never going to be the same again. The people who come for the peace and quiet of a long stretch of sand, or clear, turquoise waters have been let down. And even though it is only three months of a year, the word of mouth has gotten around faster than an area can heal from ecosystem loss. The pamphlets one sees as just a pocket guide chalked full of gorgeous photos, important information and directions becomes an invitation to the rest of the world.

Maybe it’s well time to start educating. If you can’t beat the crowds, join them to make a difference. Many people are surprised that in an area as important as Grey Bruce, there is little money invested in educating people on the local Geology. Maybe then, people will snap fewer photos and learn just how significant this area is. Maybe then, people who litter will finally acknowledge what they are doing wrong and think twice before treating our home like a dump. Maybe then, society will learn how to leave only footsteps. Maybe, just maybe.

Joseph Gentile, Sauble Beach