By Richard Leitner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
A bid to solve traffic congestion around Webster’s Falls by banning parking there on weekends between Easter and Thanksgiving “makes no sense,” according to a group that raised $365,000 to rebuild the park’s iconic cobblestone bridge.
Woody Thompson of the Optimist Club of Greensville told a public meeting his members doubt many people will go through the bother of parking at Christie Lake and taking a shuttle bus, as envisioned by a proposed new master plan.
The 25-year resident of nearby Fallsview Road said a consultant’s recommendation to also keep hikers away from the bottom of the falls is “just not practical and reasonable.”
“Our guess is that if this proposal is executed, the entire area of the park will become a private park with a few walk-ins from the immediate vicinity, nobody else,” Thompson told the Hamilton Conservation Authority’s citizens advisory board.
“If somebody wants to spend 15 minutes looking at the falls, snapping a picture or two, or heaven forbid they want to throw a blanket on the ground and have a picnic, do you really think that they’re going to drive to Christie, pay to park, buy a ticket, get on the bus with all their stuff, to go to Webster’s, hoping there will be a bus to take them back when they’re ready?”
None of the 15 people who turned out for the meeting spoke in support of the plan, drafted in response to concerns that Webster’s can no longer handle the estimated 80,000 people who now visit each year, about 70 per cent of them from the Toronto region.
Charles Webster, a direct descendent of the falls’ namesake family, said the park’s natural beauty remains its key attraction and suggested better security, rather than restricted access, to avoid environmental damage.
“I really don’t want to see an over-legislated solution so that we preserve the area for future generations. This generation counts, too,” he said. “I think it would become sterile if we allow just busing back and forth.”
The proposed master plan recommends a $1.345-million makeover for Webster’s Falls and the Spencer Gorge, including upgrades to trails, fencing and signage, construction of wheelchair-accessible washrooms and reworking of park entrances to cut traffic lineups.
It also calls on the authority to try to stop people from hiking around the bottom of the falls by limiting access to a viewing platform on new stairs that would replace aging stone ones shut in May for safety reasons.
The section of the Bruce Trail leading to the lower gorge would be similarly off limits, as would the creek leading up to the falls.
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.
But advisory board member Kristen Brittain, who lives in the area, said she’s concerned the new stairs may not be in place for another five years and restrictions will be ignored by those determined to enjoy the falls as they see fit.
“I’d be worried that the misuse would continue and increase,” she said. “People are still going to want to access it through inappropriate ways and maybe there would be more bush parties and things like that.”
Other board members were reluctant to impose an all-out parking ban, suggesting shuttles could be employed on the busiest long weekends or that Christie Lake could be used for overflow parking.
Authority vice-chair Jim Howlett said he opposes any radical changes until it becomes clear whether Webster’s growing attraction to out-of-towners is a fad or a permanent change.
In the meantime, he said he welcomes solutions that end the unwanted intrusions on neighbours’ privacy and concerns about emergency access on busy weekends.
“I wouldn’t want to see big solutions that are permanent for a problem that is really 10 or 15 days a year,” Howlett said. “I wouldn’t want to destroy the things that committed people in that community have visioned and fundraised for. They have crafted an incredibly wonderful space there.”
The authority will continue to accept public comments on the plan until Jan. 18. The feedback will be taken into consideration in a staff report to be presented to the advisory board in February.