Beaches including Grand Bend, Port Stanley plan for June 22 reopening
But strict physical distancing rules mean municipalities will guard against crowding
After being closed since March, beaches in Port Stanley and Grand Bend are planning for a tentative reopening of Monday, June 22, but mayors in both communities warn that it won't be business as usual.
Instead of allowing crowds to pack every bit of beachfront, there will be strict rules and monitoring in place to ensure visitors stay a safe distance apart.
Here's how it will work.
A coordinated reopening
Sally Martyn is the mayor of Central Elgin township, which includes Port Stanley on Lake Erie.
In recent weeks, she and officials in Lambton Shores, the municipality that includes Grand Bend, began to work together so they could coordinate a reopening plan that would cover all beaches across both municipalities.
"We know that people in the London area either go to Grand Bend or Port Stanley and we want to work together so our message is consistent," she said.
Since Port Stanley's beaches were closed on March 30, the town's bylaw officers and the OPP have been working to enforce the beach ban. After the June 22 reopening, the town will have "beach champions" — bylaw officers, firefighters, police and lifeguards — who will monitor crowd levels on the beaches and enforce physical distancing.
"If [visitors] don't adhere to the rules, we'll ask them to leave," said Martyn. "The police are there to back us up. If [visitors] don't cooperate, we're just going to close the beach again or change the rules."
Martyn said enforcing the rules won't be easy or cheap. The municipality has already ordered new signs.
She advises anyone planning a visit to the beach to first check with the Central Elgin Beach Rescue Facebook page to ensure it's open and has enough space for new arrivals.
"You can check that site before leaving to make sure there's room on the beach for you before you drive all the way," she said.
Martyn wasn't sure what might be a safe number of beach-goers in Port Stanley's two beaches.
"We often get 5,000 to 10,000 people and we can't handle that now," she said. "We're working hard to make this safe."
Grand Bend awaits word from the province
Although Grand Bend is also targeting a June 22 reopening, that area wasn't among those cleared by the province to enter stage two of Ontario's reopening plan. Mayor Bill Weber is hoping that will come Monday.
"We want to coordinate with the other municipalities so one area doesn't become overwhelmed, and we can open at the same time," said Weber. "If we can open at the same time, we won't have an influx in any one area."
Like Central Elgin, Lambton Shores is ordering signs and making sure staff are in place to enforce social distancing rules.
Weber encourages people to check the municipality's web cameras to ensure the beaches aren't too crowded before they head out.
"One of the worst things that could happen is we go backward on this, and we have too many people and the numbers go back up," he said.
For provincial parks with beaches, it's a different story.
Visitors planning a trip to the Pinery or Rondeau provincial park should first go to the Ontario Parks website before planning a trip there.
Beaches in Ontario Parks
As for which Provincial Parks with beaches are open to visitors, it depends on whether or not that region of the province has been cleared to enter stage two of the province's reopening plan.
The Pinery beaches remain closed to visitors while Rondeau Beach is open.
The latest information is available on the Ontario Parks website.