Dyers Bay Update: Paid Parking Begins May 21; Cabot Head Road Closed Indefinitely

The large parking lot on the hill above Dyers Bay will be the only public parking lot in the area this summer. It will serve the Bruce Trail, the Government Dock in Dyers Bay and Cabot Head. Access to Cabot Head will be on foot or by bicycle, at-your-own-risk, over the closed road. The lightstation is still closed to the public. The Free Parking sign is from last summer; it will come down shortly. The paid parking machine in the foreground will become active May 21. Residents with a permit may park free.
By John Francis, Bruce Peninsula Press

The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula is trying to reduce traffic and congestion in several overly popular locations. Last summer, on-street parking was banned on Moore St in Lion’s Head (which provides access to Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Reserve and the Lion’s Head lookout). This year additional parking restrictions have been discussed and will be in place at several locations, including Grant Watson Drive in Tobermory (access to Mermaids Cove/Burnt Point) and at Dyers Bay.

The problem at Dyers Bay isn’t the village itself, it is access to the Cabot Head lightstation, which lies 6 km beyond the village. As lighthouse visits gained popularity, the narrow, twisting road through the village of Dyers Bay saw more and more traffic. Residents complained that it was no longer pleasant or safe to walk in their village. 

The lightstation has been closed since 2017 for mercury remediation and other improvements; this gave Dyers Bay residents a much-appreciated reprieve from heavy traffic. The reprieve continued when Cabot Head Road washed out in the winter of 2019-2020.

Cabot Head Road is a wheel track road — a travelled lane across private property without a municipal road allowance. Historically, the Municipality has maintained the road within the wheel tracks to a Municipal standard as their contribution to the site. The properties it leads to — a Provincial Nature Reserve and the federally owned lightstation (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) — are neither municipal properties nor municipal taxpayers, so the municipality feels limited responsibility for the repair of the washouts (observed in late 2019 and throughout 2020) without the other stakeholders in agreement on a clear direction forward. 

What MNBP does have is a responsibility to the taxpayers of Dyers Bay: to solve the problem of heavy traffic through their village. Should proposals move forward to re-open Cabot Head Road as a trail, the municipality needs to find a way to facilitate access to Cabot Head without reintroducing heavy traffic through Dyers Bay. At this time, the Friends of Cabot Head (lightstation) FOCH no longer have a lease for the lighthouse. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ontario Parks and the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory continue to have access to the sites that is satisfactory to their needs, either by ATV or truck.

Cabot Head Road is still closed due to storm damage from the winter of 2019-2020. Stakeholders have been meeting regularly with a view to creating a cycle path to Cabot Head. This is a complex undertaking, as the road is mostly on private property and does not have a road allowance.

There are three developments that will profoundly affect this story, one immediate and certain, two that are not yet written in stone.

On Friday, May 21, paid parking will go “live” at the large parking lot at the top of the hill on the east side of Dyers Bay. That lot will be the only public parking available in the Dyers Bay area. There will be no public parking at the Government Dock, no public parking in the village itself, and no public parking at the west end of the village where Cabot Head Road plunges past the “Road Closed” sign and down to the washed-out shoreline. In theory, the parking regulations will drastically reduce traffic through the village. Access to Cabot Head will only be on foot or by bicycle, over the closed roadway.

A near-term future development will be the creation of a cycle trail to Cabot Head. This plan — currently being negotiated among all the stakeholders — involves maintaining the former Cabot Head Road as a bike trail. A local cycling enthusiast told me it will be among “the most beautiful cycling paths in Canada”.

Another (possible) future development is a shuttle service from the parking lot to Cabot Head. This is very much up in the air until the access road is repaired. All interested parties will be watching to see how the shuttle service in Lion’s Head unfolds.