Guest Column: Councillor Golden Weighs in on Tobermory’s Future, Traffic Management, Affordable Housing and National Parks

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In the last press, John covered the “Special Council” meeting on Sept 16. The problems due to increased visitation were well covered… as they have been… both in this publication and others. We know one of the biggest problems is too many people trying to visit certain areas, at certain times. Many of these sites are managed by Parks but accessed by municipal roads. Also, fewer visitors allowed at Flowerpot, as is being proposed in the management plan, may add to the stress at peak times.

The meeting was valuable and presented many viewpoints, data, and a lot of “good” words, such as sustainability, best practices, collaboration, education, etc. etc.

What the meeting was short on, time wise and otherwise, was solid solutions. The municipality did try to address issues as they arose (Parks joked they had our staff on speed dial), but solutions such as hiring extra bylaw and security and closing roads (Big Tub Road was closed part of Saturday and Sunday of Labour Day Weekend) is neither a best practice nor sustainable… financially or otherwise. 

The fact is, we are running out of options… and land, especially in Tobermory. Some tour boat operators have provided their own parking and shuttles, by necessity. I would like to see what little land the municipality has to hopefully be available, if and when, there can be some reasonable housing options. The rapid upward trajectory of real estate prices, including vacant land, and subsequent lack of housing is a major crisis. This not only threatens our future as a year round community, but also poses big issues for businesses needing housing for staff.

At the end of the meeting I was asked by a ZOOM attendee what solutions I could offer as to management of visitors. I did not get an opportunity to respond, but if I had, here is what I would have offered. 

I would like to see the visitors who want to visit the park be managed out of the Parks Visitor Centre as part of a wider reservation system. Shuttles can then run from there to the sites. Parks have spoken about adding to the reservation system they have for the Grotto (thousands are still turned away there). The “rub” is that there will need to be greatly increased parking space at the Centre. When you think about it, this land is basically beside the village, why can it not be utilized when so much of our village is used for parking? Sensitive areas could be avoided. We all know the Visitor Centre was built where it was to “use” the amenities of the village. Well, we are at capacity. 

This would be an ideal opportunity for interpretive programs while awaiting their scheduled shuttle. Parks, to their credit, have increased front line staffing. Would these employees not be better utilized managing this system; educating visitors about our special areas rather than getting berated while turning so many away at each venue? 

Another suggestion I have heard is to have a more accessible trail from the Centre, to the shoreline (Burnt Point) where all family members are able to enjoy the hike and the amazing view. This could also alleviate the stress on other areas, including the village, and people would feel that they had actually had an opportunity to “visit” the park. 

I am certain a “group” will be assembled to look at better management. Everyone, including our visitors, have frustrations. Hopefully, all participants can seriously look at some solutions, not just cite “policies”, to move forward, to find concrete solutions to what is surely to be an ongoing, if not increasing, problem.

Thanks for reading,

Laurie (Smokey) Golden