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Few places to park, eat or pee: Now's not the time for a Port Stanley day trip

The warming weather is a draw after weeks shut inside but with the beach closed and many local businesses shuttered by COVID-19, now might not be the time for a day trip to lakeside villages like Port Stanley.

Visitors will also arrive to find the beach closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The intersection of Main, Joseph and Colborne Streets in Port Stanley. The village is a popular spot for summer day trippers but COVID-19 restrictions have closed the beach and many of the businesses. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

By anyone's measure, it's been a brutal spring. 

With everyone shut in for weeks to curtail the spread of a deadly virus, even the toughest among us can be forgiven for going a bit stir crazy. 

And with the arrival of somewhat sunny, slightly better-than-frigid weather, a day trip to a beach on Lake Erie or Lake Huron may seem exactly what's needed right now. 

Except according to health officials, it's exactly what's not needed. Dr. Joyce Lock, the medical officer of health for the health unit that serves the Port Stanley area, recommends visitors not visit lakeside communities for recreation. 

The mayor of Central Elgin agrees it's not the best idea, at least not right now.

"Now is not the time to come to Port Stanley," said Sally Martyn. 

As much as the village relies on visitors and cottagers, she'd rather see people stay away for the time being.

"We've done really well in Central Elgin [against COVID-19]," she said. "We've had three cases in total and we haven't had any cases since the 27th of April. And our hospital is COVID-19 free. We've done really well in this area and we want to maintain that and keep our people safe." 

Here's why heading to Port Stanley for a day trip is not a good idea right now: 

The beach is closed

Port Stanley’s beaches are closed and four bylaw officers are issuing warnings to people who ignore the signs. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Port Stanley's stunning beaches closed on March 30 as part of a province-wide order. The move is aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 by keeping people from congregating in public places. 

Right now four Central Elgin bylaw enforcement officers are monitoring Port Stanley's Little Beach and Main Beach. So far they've issued warnings, not tickets, but Martyn said that may change if necessary. 

On warm weekends since the pandemic began, some visitors have chosen to ignore the many signs and venture onto the beach anyway. 

"People will get out of their car, they will walk on the berm and walk from there to the beach," said Ann Stevens, who operates the Little Beach gift shop on Main Street. 

"I don't mean to discourage people to come to Port Stanley, we love visitors," she said. "But if we all hold off a little bit longer, the beach will be open, the marina will be open and we want everyone to come back." 

Ann Stevens says Port Stanley's merchants when visitors to come when it's safe. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Many businesses are closed

Jean Vedova has owned the Kettle Creek Inn in Port Stanley since 1983. She'd love to see businesses re-open but says health must come first. She's seen people ignore orders to stay off the beach and said on warm weekends this year, the village has been flooded with more visitors than is safe. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Jean Vedova has operated the Kettle Creek Inn since 1983. For now, she's not taking hotel guests but she's been able to offer takeout during the shutdown. Of course that doesn't come close to covering her overhead. 

As a business operator, she'd like to see the restrictions loosened, if it can be done safely, but she says Port Stanley has already become dangerously overcrowded on the few warm weather days they've seen this year. 

"Some people were being very intelligent and practising safe distancing, and others did not give a sweet hoot about it," she said. "Therefore they ruined it for all concerned. We were swamped in Port Stanley. People were everywhere. That's where I have a concern."  

Other food businesses have tried staying open for takeout orders but in a few cases, customer crowding has been a problem. Some food venders that aren't doing takeout now have plans to do it on the May 24 long weekend. 

Parking lots are closed

The municipal lots in Port Stanley are closed and blocked off with large cement barriers. Drive to Port Stanley, and you might find yourself circling around with no place to park.

The lift bridge is closed

The lift bridge in Port Stanley closed for repairs in April and won't be operating again until next spring. There's a detour that allows access to the town's main beach, but the closure won't help congestion when sun-seeking visitors come to the village. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Port Stanley's lift bridge is closed for repair. The work started in April and is expected to continue until next spring. The bridge spans Kettle Creek and is also a main traffic artery to the village's main beach. There's a detour in place but the closure will likely add to the congestion in the village. 

No public bathrooms

With so many businesses closed and restaurants not allowed to serve customers indoors, there are few opportunities for relief after the car ride. Something to keep in mind before arriving with a carload of kids. 

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