This article is going to carry a bit of a different tone, because it’s necessary. It’s a hard line to walk — maintaining the image of happy nature boy, but also being a messenger on the ground who has the ability to tell you the truth of what’s
But this isn’t about me. It’s about you, our town, and our collective health as a population.
Since the pandemic was announced more than 400 days ago, the human race has watched a series
of trends run their respective courses. New patterns have emerged on how our species socializes, what makes us sick, and what makes us tick.
As I’ve touched on previously, the way humans have interacted with our natural spaces has been warped into positive, negative, and perplexing directions in the past year-plus. One subset of our population appears to be getting outside more, and increasing their newfound bond with nature. Another population is waiting for rules to change, or perhaps is comfortable with the indoor lifestyle.
Things move fast. I literally have to jot down the incoming environmental incidences as they populate my mind and our newsfeeds. Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara region have given me a lot to chew on recently. Here are some provoking tidbits from the past couple weeks which I found quite noteworthy.
As our leaders have been promoting how being outdoors is exponentially safer than being indoors, they recently made that concept much more inaccessible. Let’s start with beach and water access.
Our neighbours in St. Catharines have recently proposed paid, and even timed parking at Lakeside and Sunset Beach, arguably two of the most popular beaches along Lake Ontario. It appears it will go through. Nothing quite like going
to the beach and keeping your eye on the time, in case of a fine.
Families with youth, especially from urban or inner-city neighbourhoods, depend on simple and rightful access to public natural spaces. Once we begin to monetize and categorize nature, we pass a slippery slope of no return. I’ll be saying to the youth one day, “remember when we used to just go to the beach or the gorge?”
Boat launches are closed now, too. It must be difficult to socially distance in the middle of the Welland River or Lake Ontario. However, film production is allowed to continue as an essential form of work, likely because that industry draws people indoors.
There is no biological science to support these decisions.
I recently had my first personal experience with the Niagara Gorge and Whirlpool parking situation. There are three main parking areas to access this natural wonder, created by nature and time, and as of now, they are all paid parking spaces. Be aware as a local, you could get charged for parking on a gloomy, drizzling Thursday midday, even in the offseason.
The parks and bylaw officer pulled up at the same time as my friend and I did. The two of us were just out to get our essential exercise in the same place we have our whole lives. Please don’t interpret that as being an entitled local; I’m just stating a fact that I know many of the readers can relate to.
The officer, pen in hand, is making her way down to our vehicles. I politely stepped out of the vehicle and asked, “are you going to put a ticket on our dashboards right now if we begin hiking?” She said yes. We wanted to pay with cash, but cash wasn’t allowed. My phone was dead, so I couldn’t download the app required to pay for my hike. So, she suggested that I drive to a nearby corner store to purchase a Vanilla card, and come back to pay with that. What the heck is a Vanilla card, and why do people need it for hiking? With all respect, she was of course just doing her job.
I thought we were in a pandemic where we are encouraged to make less stops, touch less, and avoid indoor spaces with people, no?
Imagine if our various authorities put these kind of efforts and staffing into outdoor education, replanting projects, and habitat enhancement.
I told the lady to have a nice day while my friend and I piled back into our vehicles, and drove up the road to find the last free parking spot.
Beaches and other 12,000-year-old natural features are being squeezed out for our citizens. Which leads me to another shocking announcement with no scientific spine — crown land camping is now illegal in Ontario. Regular camping spots are full to the brim, backcountry camping sites have quadrupled in price, and now the final, wild straw has been pulled.
In summary, nature is becoming either straight up illegal, or, on other angles, an increasingly discouraging trip out the door.
Meanwhile, places like Virgil Conservation Area have recently been victimized by disturbing amounts of litter and a small but noticeable forest-clearing event (the cleared land is painfully obvious, and reaches right down to the edge of the creek). I stood in the valley, admittedly, my blood boiling.
There is nothing quite like staring across a creek with markedly terrible water quality (according to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s Watershed Report Card), as more natural vegetation gets removed, and a plethora of plastics clings to the banks. But there is nothing we can do about it right now.
Wrong. I was back just a week later with my girlfriend and a select few others in my “bubble,” and we cleaned that place up by filling big plastic garbage bags. It was that easy, and that productive. I will be hitting up other sites in the near future as well, before vegetation and ticks become too rampant for productive garbage cleanups, many of which are cancelled or postponed due to restrictions with no concrete end date in sight.
Ironically, it’s the very deprivation from nature, and the degradation of it, that makes us sick, sick people. Welcome to spring, the season of transformation. You know what they say, you can often tell a lot about someone by the environment they live in.
Here’s an emergency break I would love to see, where the province goes, “oh my gosh! The very environment that keeps us healthy and economically sound is being dismantled at an alarming rate!” Not enough of us are paying attention these days.
I take a deep breath from the keyboard. Pause. Sigh. Perhaps I could focus more on the positive? There is an enormous danger to turning a blind or ignorant eye to evolving problems. You can only sweep so much under the carpet before you trip over it.
Will NOTL trip, or rise to the occasion?