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Long Point 'open for business' despite provincial park closure

It's been a difficult summer for business owners in Port Rowan and Long Point, on the shores of Lake Erie. Tourism has been down ever since Long Point Provincial Park closed its campgrounds due to flooding in early July.

Local businesses struggling with drop in tourism after Long Point Provincial Park closed campgrounds

Downtown Port Rowan, a 15 minute drive from Long Point Provincial Park, usually sees an influx of tourists in the summer. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Businesses near Long Point, on the shores of Lake Erie, are hoping to recover from a slow tourist season after flooding forced Long Point Provincial Park to close its campgrounds earlier this summer.

Visitors have stayed away from the area ever since news of the closures broke, due to concerns about high water.

Graham Ferguson, the owner of Long Point Island Hugger Tours, said he felt the impact almost overnight. Ferguson leads boating excursions out of the marina in nearby Port Rowan.

"We were doing programming for different organizations and then all of a sudden it was like a ribbon had been cut with a pair of scissors. And that was it, for about a week and a half," he said.

"And then successive times when media had mentioned that the place had closed or nothing was open ... the business would tank for about three to four days."

'It's been a long summer'

Ferguson isn't alone. In downtown Port Rowan, many of the shops have been uncharacteristically quiet.

Dizzy Lizzy's, a hot spot for toys, candy, gifts and camping supplies, has missed its regular group of campers from the provincial park.

"I think people have gotten an unfortunate idea that everything is flooded, but no, we're open and the point is still open and you can still go and enjoy the beaches," said owner Connie Hebbert.

Connie Hebbert, one of the owners of Dizzy Lizzie's in Port Rowan, says fewer families have visited the store this summer from the provincial park. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Down the road at the local Foodland grocery store, the checkout aisles aren't as busy as they should be.

Owner Angela Wiggans said the store is usually packed with people stocking up on groceries to bring back to their campsite.

"We're slow. Our weekends aren't weekends, our staff has been impacted," Wiggans said. "Our sales are down. It's just been a long summer."

Angela Wiggans is one of the owners of Wiggans Foodland in Port Rowan. She says they rely on tourist season so they can operate year-round. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Even though the grocery store runs year-round, Wiggans said the business relies on revenue from the summer to stay open during the winter.

"Without the summer, we wouldn't be here," she said. "I'm scared. We're very, very scared. We still have a month, so we're just hoping for the best."

Out on the point, Judy Cronmiller is also worried about what will happen come winter.

She owns Cronmiller's At the Bridge, which offers a boat launch, kayak and canoe rentals, pontoon charters and a bait shop. Business is down as much as 70 per cent this year, she estimates.

Judy Cronmiller, of Cronmiller's At the Bridge in Long Point, says the high water isn't the only challenge she's facing. She also anticipates construction on the nearby Long Point causeway will be hard on the bottom line. (Judy Cronmiller)

Cronmiller's is taking the loss especially hard because the aging Long Point causeway, which sits right beside their driveway, is in desperate need of repair. 

"We have looking forward the replacement of the bridge next year or the year after, and the replacement of the whole causeway, so that is going to cause a lot of uproar," Cronmiller said. 

"We were sort of trying to make money more in these last two years to save, knowing that the bridge was going to be under construction, and then this happens and the water comes up."

Some cottages, campgrounds and beaches still open

With only one month left in the summer, the communities of Long Point and Port Rowan are now trying to spread the word that they're open for business.

Even the provincial park isn't fully closed. The day-use public beach has been open throughout the summer and the park's Cottonwood Campground was reopened just in time for the Long Weekend.

Business owners like Ray Ferris, who runs the Old Cut Boat Livery, have also been stepping up their social media presence and working with customers to find alternate accommodations.

Ray Ferris, the owner of the Old Cut Boat Livery, says sales and boat rentals have down since the provincial park closed, but he's optimistic they'll make it through the summer. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

"There's a lot of cottages available for sale, there's a lot of bed and breakfasts available for sale and there's a lot of other campgrounds in the community," Ferris said. "We're trying to keep people local and we've been able to do that quite well."

Business has also started looking up for Ferguson, who says customers have started calling to rebook their boat tours, after finding out the point isn't flooded.

"We just want an opportunity to show people how beautiful this place is," he said. "Given an opportunity, we'll make sure that your family or group has a fantastic experience here. And that's regardless of whatever water level there is.

Graham Ferguson owns Long Point Island Hugger Tours. He wants people to know he's still open for business, despite the higher water levels. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

About the Author

Robin De Angelis is a multimedia journalist based in southwestern Ontario. She has previously worked as a reporter covering local news in Sudbury. Get in touch on Twitter @RobinElizabethD or by email robin.deangelis@cbc.ca

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