By Richard Leitner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
The days of being able to park your car by Webster’s Falls or the Spencer Gorge on a weekend and hike wherever you want may be numbered.
A proposed new master plan for the area is calling for their parking lots to be closed on weekends and holidays between Easter and Thanksgiving as a way to end the traffic snarls that have plagued the area in recent years. It also hopes to keep hikers out of the bottom of the gorge.
A consultant’s report on the plan, to be presented to a Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) advisory board on Dec. 13, concludes the area can’t handle the estimated 80,000 people who now visit each year, a growing number of them from the Toronto region.
It proposes that visitors on peak-season weekends be directed to park at Christie Lake Conservation Area, where a shuttle bus would take them to and from Webster’s.
Parking on those weekends would no longer be allowed at Optimist Park and Greensville school, and street-parking prohibitions would be extended to Highway 8 and Harvest Road.
The recommendations are part of a proposed $1.345-million makeover for the area that includes upgrades to trails, fencing and signage, construction of wheelchair-accessible washrooms and reworking of park entrances to reduce traffic lineups.
The plan also calls on the authority to try to stop people from trampling around the bottom of Webster’s Falls by limiting access to a viewing platform on new stairs that would replace the dilapidated stone ones, shut since May for safety reasons.
The section of the Bruce Trail leading to the lower gorge would be similarly off limits.
The goal is to reduce the impact on a provincially significant area of natural and scientific interest that is home to several rare species and six considered at risk.
“We do see that certain things are being affected down there from a vegetation point of view, that we’re losing a lot of it,” said Sandy Bell, the authority’s manager of design and development.
The consultant’s report says the changes are needed because of a dramatic increase in visitors, one fueled by the area’s growing attraction for people living outside Hamilton.
Bell said requiring people to park at Christie may discourage some visitors, but shuttles have been used successfully at other environmentally sensitive parks, including at Point Pelee.
The Dec. 13 meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. at the HCA headquarters at 838 Mineral Springs Rd. in Ancaster, will allow the public to offer its views on the master plan.
The authority is also welcoming written comments from those unable to attend.
“Because we want that place to be there for your kids to take their kids, we need to make some management changes in the way that we operate the park,” Bell said.