Crowds at Little Cove on June 20 wore no masks, but individual groups of people were obviously aware of the need for physical distancing.
By John Francis

The COVID-19 pandemic changes every day and is having wildly different impacts in different parts of the country. It is difficult for a federal agency to respond at the best of times, but especially so when regional conditions are this different — no new cases in Newfoundland in three weeks, none in PEI since April but over a hundred new cases every day in the Greater Toronto Area. Somehow, Parks Canada has to make rules that suit all of these conditions.

After months of shutdown, our two National Parks are opening again. It won’t be instantaneous and it won’t be everything, but peninsula tourism operators are hoping that with any luck it will be enough.

The Bruce Peninsula is a perfect micro-sample of Canada. There have been no known cases of COVID-19 in the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula but Toronto, barely three hours away, is the national hot-spot.

Tour boat operators will get access to Flowerpot Island on June 29, but they won’t get approval from Transport Canada to run their boats until July 1. An 

information bulletin from Parks Canada tells the business community that on July 1, “Tour boats will begin running trips to Flowerpot Island. The capacity on Flowerpot Island will be reduced to 50%. This number may be adjusted as the season progresses and the situation changes.”

The main park attractions — the Grotto area, Halfway Log Dump and the Bruce Trail through the park — also open on June 29. “Grotto day use will resume at 50% capacity initially. This number may be adjusted as the season progresses and the situation changes. Parking reservations are strongly recommended and will launch soon. Visitors will not be permitted to climb down into the Grotto itself, since it would be difficult to physically distance in this small space.
The Bruce Trail will open for hiking throughout the park.”

Full details are not yet available but it is expected that Grotto access will be by reservation only — no walk-up cash access at all, even for locals.

Singing Sands will be reduced to 50% of parking capacity to avoid overcrowding on the small area of beach that is currently above water. This will no doubt be challenging as this location has already seen congestion issues this year.

Crowds at Singing Sands on June 20 wore no masks, but individual groups of people were obviously aware of the need for physical distancing.

Halfway Log Dump parking will be “first-come, first-served parking. There may be delays due to construction of new entrance gate facilities.”

“Front desk reception at the Visitor Centre will be limited to 12 visitors at one time. The theatre, gallery and tower will remain closed.”

On July 15, “The Cyprus Lake Campground will open at 50% capacity. We are currently working with our reservations team to reduce the camping capacity in the Cyprus Lake Campground by 50% this season. Clients who have had their reservations cancelled will be notified as soon as possible and will automatically received a full refund. While we work on cancelling existing reservations, we are not accepting new reservations for the Cyprus Lake Campground. Please check our website for the most up-to-date information as we work to resume reservations in the coming weeks. Shower facilities in the Cyprus Lake Campground will remain closed for the season. Yurts and group camping will remain closed for the season. Existing reservation holders will be notified and will automatically receive a full refund.”

The national policies leave a lot out: Little Cove for example. Little Cove is accessed by a municipal road and a municipal road allowance which runs right to the water’s edge. Therefore Parks Canada and the municipality need to work together to manage access to that location.

Almost 100 carloads of people went to Little Cove on June 20. Parked cars stretched almost a kilometre up the road.

In the interim, Parks Superintendent John Haselmayer explains, as Parks Canada increases management at their other locations, Little Cove “is like the jam that squeezes out of a sandwich.” Little Cove has been an issue for quite a few years, he agrees. Parks has reached an agreement with the municipality to build a 28-space parking lot for Little Cove. A gate will prevent vehicles from getting down the hill. Parking on Little Cove Road will be limited to one side, to make sure the road remains accessible to ambulances and fire trucks.

Parks is providing funding to construct a parking lot on municipal property and a passable (gated) road down to the shore for emergency vehicles. Parks will also provide a composting toilet on their own land. Haselmayer is confident that Parks and MNBP can work together to limit parking and manage the number of visitors at Little Cove.

Haselmayer cuts through the fog of COVID-19 — “How can we do this safely, for our staff and for the visitors?” One of the key elements is to minimize face-to-face interactions between park staff and visitors. Signage will be an important element in this.

But ultimately, visitors are responsible for their own safety. Parks personnel are not responsible to enforce mask-wearing or physical distancing.

Haselmayer stresses that park staff will have full Personal Protective Equipment available to them and will receive training on personal safety.

But most of all, “The whole situation is fluid.” He recommends that everybody check the website for up-to-date information: