Sudbury·Audio

Even the nature of northern Ontario could be closed for COVID-19 if hikers don't follow the rules

One of the only things you're able to go out and do these days is take a walk in the woods, but how much longer will that be true?

Two popular walking paths in Sudbury closed so far over physical distancing concerns

A sign listing precautions to be taken during the COVID-19 outbreak greets visitors to Sudbury's Bell Park. (Erik White/CBC)

When Carl Jorgensen walks the trails at Lake Laurentian Conservation Area these days, he's looking to see how far apart the other hikers are.

The general manager of Conservation Sudbury also interviews people coming off the trails to see if they noticed anyone not following the rules laid out by public health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"So far, extremely overwhelming positive response from everybody. I think people who are continuing to use our trails are enjoying them and are aware if they are not social distancing that could be an issue and we may see a trail closure," says Jorgensen.

Trails at most conservation areas in northeastern Ontario are open, but hikers are warned if they don't stay apart that they could be closed. (Erik White/CBC )

That has happened already in Sudbury, with the Bell Park Boardwalk and the trails at the A.Y. Jackson Lookout on the Onaping River. Both closed when city staff worried people were walking too close to each other.

Jorgensen says the conservation areas are only open for walking and not for picnicking, fishing or anything else people used to do there.

Across the province, playgrounds and park amenities such as gazebos and tennis courts have been ordered closed, but most municipal parks remain open.

"Certainly we have a lot of trail systems and a lot of park area, so I don't think it's too difficult for people who aren't part of family groups to maintain physical distancing. I think there's quite a lot of space to do that," says Sault Ste. Marie chief administrative officer Malcolm White.

A sign on a trail in the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area in Sudbury warns hikers to stay two metres apart. (Erik White/CBC)

The Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority says it's seen a "spike" in visitors to the Fort Creek Conservation Area and has reached out to public health officials to see what action it should take.

The North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority has closed the Mattawa Island Conservation Area on the request of Mattawa town council, because of fears the basketball court there could be a gathering spot. 

Communications advisor Sue Buckle says they've also removed all garbage cans that people needed to open with their hands, but admitted that it could cause other problems. 

"Well the idea is that they're bear proof, so we'll see how that goes. We're trying to keep things as normal as possible," she says.

Early in the pandemic when parks were closed, North Bay police charged a parent $880 for taking his child to a playground. (Erik White/CBC)

About half of the conservation areas in Ontario have been closed, almost all of them in the more crowded south, where many city parks have been totally roped off as well.

Glenn Thurston, parks manager for the City of Timmins, says the issue could come to a head in the north once the warmer weather finally arrives.

"We still have a lot of snow on the ground, which is slowing people down from going into the parks," says Thurston. 

"I hope that we don't have to start closing off greenspaces, but it is a real possibility depending on how people behave themselves."

One of the only things you're able to go out and do these days is take a walk in the woods, but how much longer will that be true? CBC reporter Erik White has been looking into this. He joined us from one of the trails in the Greater Sudbury area. 8:08

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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