Ottawa

Swimmers feeling beached by new Meech Lake parking hours

The National Capital Commission's decision to close parking lots near Meech Lake overnight is drawing scorn from long-distance swimmers who say they have no alternatives during the pandemic.

Triathletes and other early-morning swimmers say they have nowhere else to go

'Our fear is that they’ll restrict, or completely eliminate, swimming in Meech Lake,' said triathlete Tim Scapillato. (Stu Mills/CBC)

The National Capital Commission's decision to close parking lots near Meech Lake overnight is drawing scorn from long-distance swimmers who say they have no alternatives during the pandemic.

In a statement released Thursday, the NCC announced it would close Meech Lake parking lots in Gatineau Park between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

According to the NCC, the popular swimming spot has seen an unprecedented influx of visitors this summer, and lifeguards at the lake's two official beaches have witnessed multiple violations.

Swimmers enjoy Meech Lake early on a summer morning. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Officially, swimmers aren't allowed past the cordoned area at O'Brien and Breton beaches, but that rule is regularly flouted by athletes like Tim Scapillato, 66, who swims three kilometres in Meech Lake three times a week.

"It's wide open, the water is fresh, the scenery is beautiful and you can just swim and swim and swim," the triathlete said. "Our fear is that they'll restrict, or completely eliminate, swimming in Meech lake."

Scapillato, a member of Technosport, a 250-member club of athletes who have been affected by the changes, noted there's been a long history of flareups between residents and beach visitors dating back to at least the 1940s.

'I don’t hear anything other than a little splish-splash,' said Jeff Beedell, who has been training at Meech Lake for the past 30 years. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Scapillato said he spoke to the NCC's director of the Gatineau Park, Christie Spence, who told him most of the complaints about open-water swimming had come from Meech Lake residents and cottagers who objected to noise and traffic.

The NCC turned down the CBC's request for an interview with Spence, but acknowledged the conversation with Scapillato took place.

"She told me it's always been illegal to swim [past the markers] in Meech Lake, but they've turned a blind eye to it," Scapillato said.

Jewelia Orlick, a lifelong resident of the lake, said the area has been busier since COVID-19 hit. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"I don't hear anything other than a little splish-splash," said Jeff Beedell, who has been training at Meech Lake for triathlons for the past 30 years. "If the issue is noise, or the issue is cars, let's deal with those. Let's not close off public swimming to a Canadian lake as a solution to other issues."

Decision to restrict Meech Lake parking lot hours worries long-distance swimmers

1 year ago
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The NCC says it will restrict access to Meech Lake parking lots after hearing complaints about noise, fire safety violations and illegal swimming. But long-distance swimmers Tim Scapillato and Jeff Beedell say closing the parking lot in the early morning won’t address those issues. 0:54

Drying off on her dock after an early-morning swim, Jewelia Orlick, 22, agreed the pandemic has turned O'Brien Beach into a hot spot.

"There's way more people. It's crazy compared to previous years," said the lifelong Meech Lake resident.

In the statement released Thursday, the NCC said its top priority is the safety of both visitors and residents, and their enjoyment of the lake, and said consultations on open-water swimming will come in the future.

Signs at O'Brien Beach show where swimmers are permitted to bathe. (Stu Mills/CBC)

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