Stay Calm & Park Your Protest

It’s no surprise that GTA residents head for the nearest beach when we have those sweltering hot weekends. Innisfil Beach Park has been a hit with visitors, even with higher parking fees this year. As the parking lots fill up, cars have taken to parking on adjoining side streets to such an extent that police have had to periodically close local roads and divert traffic away from the park. A large digital sign-board near the Town Hall warns when the park is closed. These occasions are entirely weather driven. The phenomenon is seasonal and very transient. It’s normal for the park to be heavily populated on summer weekends.

The use of a school lot for overflow parking hasn’t solved the problem. Council, led by the Mayor, decided that it was too late in the season to devise any short-term remedies, opting instead to propose a plan for next year. I can understand nearby residents being upset about suddenly being hemmed in by a swarm of vehicles illegally parked on nearby narrow streets.

Innisfil did choose to focus on tourism as an economic driver. We do need a new approach now to deal with this local success story. But the proposed protest that some residents are planning just makes me ashamed. Their reported plan is to occupy as many parking spaces in the park as they can, early on Labour Day weekend, forcing visitors out and away. This does not in any way address the parking issue but it does cast some light on the darker, ugly side of this controversy.

By that I mean that some Innisfil residents just aren’t ready to welcome the wider world to our community. I’ve been aware of a certain undercurrent for several years but hoped it would fade with time. It hasn’t. There are a few clues to the real issue. 

The organizer says it’s an attempt to “take back the beach” because “taxpayers should come first”. Should they? Is this a public beach area, first come, first served? Or are we trying to create a class system with the “best parking” reserved for these entitled residents plus some others we deign to let in? “Take back” from whom? What’s the point? Do we want to shrink back into a private “gated” community – residents only? Innisfil Beach Park is still open to all residents and we get to enjoy it throughout the week. Residents have 98 reserved parking spaces.

The protest organizer is silent on real remedies but reveals the actual bias with some bogus complaints. The silliest is the claim that one or more people have used a beach-side tent as a toilet. This is an urban legend (maybe suburban) that has been repeated locally for at least the last five years without a shred of credibility (and shamefully repeated in the press). It’s a testament to the power of gossip. I’m sure our visitors are familiar with the two public washrooms in the park and know how to use them. Then there’s the unspecified complaint about the use of portable barbecues. The park is supplied with specially marked barrels to deposit used coals. I haven’t been able to identify a problem with this outdoor activity. Beyond that, park visitors are accused of unspecified “rule breaking”. However, in my experience, other than Mother Nature, local vandals have inflicted the most damage to the park over the past 20 years.

How about genuine ideas to address the actual issue? The nearest residents have the option of walking or cycling to the park. Additional ‘satellite’ parking is a possibility. Some form of shuttle, for either residents or visitors, is another possibility. At $30 a pop, I’d also be willing to have a visitor park in my driveway for the day. When the park is approaching full capacity, social media can be used to let people know up-to-date parking availability. Innisfil Tourism Radio (FM 96.9) can direct potential overflow traffic to other Simcoe County beach areas. Are there opportunities for the Town to invest in new beach areas in Innisfil? If there is such a huge demand on hot days for easily accessible amusement, is there an opportunity here for development of a private water-park? I can think of a couple of excellent potential locations.

I just wonder how many upset residents actually picked up a Resident Parking Pass in the spring?