Local dog walkers sending emails to Parks Canada to tell them how important the Commons off-leash area is to them are hoping for a commitment that the federal agency will honour a hand-shake agreement of about 25 years ago.
But after receiving dozens of such emails, Parks Canada is not promising anything.
The fear of losing the only area where dogs are allowed to run free in Niagara-on-the-Lake is growing, a result of complaints from others who use the path, and an explosion in the popularity of its use by those out for a stroll, a run or a bike ride.
“The national historic sites in Niagara-on-the-Lake are wonderful places for visitors to discover, learn, and connect with history and nature, and there is a long standing tradition of public use at these shared spaces, particularly in the area known as the Commons,” Parks Canada communications officer Elizabeth LeBlanc said in an email to The Local.
“Parks Canada has unofficially permitted dogs to be off-leash in a section of the Commons at Butler’s Barracks National Historic Site. In recent years the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has seen some dramatic changes. The local population has grown, the town has become an increasingly popular tourism destination, and there has been a significant increase in how and how often the public are using outdoor spaces,” said LeBlanc.
“Additional visitor demand on local Parks Canada heritage places, especially during the pandemic, has resulted in increased pressures including waste, concerns for species at risk, human-wildlife interactions, and conflict between users.”
The health and safety of visitors and staff is a priority for Parks Canada, she said. “As a result, Parks Canada is currently reviewing the public use of heritage properties and multi-use trails in Niagara-on-the-Lake, including Butler’s Barracks National Historic Site, the Commons, Paradise Grove and Fort George National Historic Site, to explore ways to best ensure the safety and enjoyment of all.”
LeBlanc said more information will be available in the weeks to come, and said Parks Canada will continue to collect comments, complaints and concerns from the public by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 905-468-6614.