Letter: Unrestricted Access and Entitlement

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When I wrote my letter to your paper back in August, (Issue #13/20 Letter It’s Time to
“Take Back The Bruce” page 4) urging municipal officials to take immediate action to protect the Bruce from the imminent dangers posed by the increase in visitors, I was accused of engaging in hysteria and hyperbole, among other things. I was saddened by the accusation, having spent the last 36 years here trying to protect and preserve this small piece of the Bruce that has been entrusted to us. 

Waking up one morning this summer to the smell of smoke from a municipal property near us only to find flames three feet high from a portable barbecue not even three feet from a group of cedar trees is not engaging in hyperbole. It is a statement of fact. The people who lit this fire did it with accelerant, of course, and because they had unrestricted, unsupervised access to the shore of Georgian Bay where they felt entitled to do whatever they wanted to do in spite of multiple signs that said “NO FIRES”

That was just one incident. There have been 20 incidents of visitors starting fires on municipal property on our road this year alone. Those are the ones we know about. Over the years, we and other residents on our road have put out dozens of fires. Dozens. Often during Fire Ban seasons. That, too, is not hyperbole. Fires often left burning after the people who lit them had left the area. That, too, is fact. And what could have happened if those fires had not been extinguished by residents on our road? With an east wind blowing. How long would it take a conflagration to reach Miller Lake or Dyers Bay from our community?

It was also suggested that we should be expected to endure these “inconveniences” for a few short weeks when visitors come and that the Bruce hasn’t changed in a thousand years. Well, if you were around in the 1920s you would have thought differently. In 1881 – the first sawmill appeared on the peninsula in Tobermory. In less than 20 years most of the valuable timber on the peninsula was gone. Fueled by the waste left behind by the rapid logging and land clearances – intense fires sprung up around the peninsula. By the mid 1920s the beautiful forest rich land of the peninsula, which we all take for granted today, was nearly barren. Why? Unrestricted access and entitlement.

And is it hyperbole to suggest that our water is also in danger? Several years ago we were aroused by a neighbour’s shouting, only to follow that neighbour as he angrily confronted a visitor to our area’s municipal property who was emptying the contents of a holding tank from his recreational vehicle into the waters of Georgian Bay? How would you feel if you saw evidence of such dumping nearly every year in the water that you drink from and swim in? Is that hyperbole or the sad reality of what happens when unrestricted access and entitlement are given free reign?

And is it hysteria to suggest that the reality of vigilante behaviour might raise its ugly head if we don’t take steps to protect the Bruce? Tell that to the mild mannered neighbour of ours who confessed to being so incensed by the aggressive behaviour of visitors to our area that he was tempted to dangle one of them over the edge of the escarpment. Tell that to our by-law officers who know better than anyone the level of frustration that area residents are feeling in communities all across the peninsula.

Unrestricted, unsupervised access to the shores of Georgian Bay is a mistake that is creating dangerous activity every year. In the past it resulted in tragic losses from which it took decades to recover. That is not hyperbole. That is historical fact. Of course, we should welcome visitors to our area, our forests, our cliffs and our water. But it is a mistake to allow them to come and do whatever they feel entitled to do.

 The Bruce needs our protection not because it belongs to anyone but precisely because it belongs to no one.

Barry Robinson