'You can still take a walk': Says city's medical officer of health as HCA closes conservation areas

The Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) is closing all of its areas to the public to stop the spread of COVID-19 and anyone caught walking the trails starting Wednesday will be considered trespassing.

The city is also directing kids to stay off playground equipment

The Hamilton Conservation Authority is closing all of its areas as of Wednesday. (Sheryl Nadler/CBC)

"You can still go out and take a walk."

That was the message from Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, Monday during an update about local efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But as the province closed non-essential businesses and more Hamiltonians than ever have started to work from home, their options for places to take a stroll are dwindling.

The Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) has announced it's shutting down all of its areas to the public and anyone caught walking the trails starting Wednesday will be considered trespassing.

The closure covers everyone — even those with membership passes.

A past COVID-19 update from the HCA said while offices and washrooms would be closing, the trails would stay open because of the "importance of access to nature for community health and well-being."

Many clearly agreed with the sentiment, flocking to the city's conservation areas.

Sarah Gauden, manager of marketing for the HCA, said all of their sites were so busy over the weekend and smaller parking lots quickly became crowded and visitors not following proper social distancing were observed.

Conservation Halton also recently closed its locations after a flood of visitors who "demonstrated a complete disregard" for health advice.

Parking officers 'subjected to abuse'

A media release from the HCA Tuesday said it has made the city aware of the "difficult decision" to close its areas to all daytime use until further notice. Parking staff will be out to ticket anyone who ignores the closures and parks illegally.

The move comes after that hectic weekend where Johnson said he was "disheartened to hear" about traffic enforcement workers around the city's waterfalls being "subjected to abuse that was uncalled for.

They are simply trying to keep us safe while recognizing we are in exceptional times," he explained.

Hamilton Conservation Authority areas include:

City officials have also emphatically warned residents, especially the youngest ones, to stay off playground equipment.

"Let me be clear: Our playground structures are closed," said Paul Johnson, director of Hamilton's emergency operations centre.

"Residents are welcome to use park green spaces when you feel it is necessary to get outside," he added. "But again we are not encouraging participation in groups in our green spaces. Although they are available, the comment remains the same. Stay at home unless you need to go out."

Try sidewalk chalk and scavenger hunts

Hamilton had 35 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus as of noon Tuesday.

Richardson said the directive to stay indoors when possible is about protecting those most at risk — especially the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

The focus is on physical distancing, not social isolation.

"While we very much want people to physically distance from each other, we absolutely want people to connect socially with one another," she explained, encouraging Hamiltonians to check in with people who may have no choice but to stay inside to maintain their health.

The doctor suggested puzzles, board games and cooking as activities people can enjoy during the outbreak.

Outdoor activities such as sidewalk chalk, scavenger hunts or getting gardens ready for spring also made her list.

And, if all else fails, people can get some fresh air by taking to the sidewalk — just make sure to leave six feet of space.

"You can still go out and take a walk," said Richardson. "You can walk your dog, while maintaining that social distancing."