Toronto

Hordes heading to Caledon to see fall colours overwhelming small towns

Belfountain is close enough to the city for a day drive to see the fall colours and that's meant heavy traffic is is overwhelming the hamlet - so much so residents have discussed restricting access during peak seasons.

Residents contend with long lines of traffic, blocked driveways and rude behaviour

Some roads are already closed during peak season to deter tourists from parking along dead-end roads. (Grant Linton/CBC)

As the peak fall colours in Caledon fade and locals breathe a sigh of relief, their thoughts turn to next season and what to do about the large crowds that come to the area and the traffic jams and other headaches that they bring.

The people who live in Belfountain especially are hoping a solution to the masses of people who come to see the parade of colours, which often cause a long line of cars through the hamlet where 200 people live.

"We were having days on the weekends where there were over 3,000 people here," said Judy Mabee, who has lived there for about a decade.

"That means every side road is filled with vehicles ... People can't get in their driveways because the roads are all blocked."

The region has had a surge in visitors to the Belfountain Conservation Area, as well as the Cheltenham Badlands and the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park

"There has been a steady increase of people coming from the city to enjoy the great outdoors. And it's a matter of where do they all go," said Mabee.

Judy Mabee has lived in Belfountain for a decade. While she was aware of the popularity of the area, especially in the fall, she says the number of visitors has outstripped the parking and road capacity of the hamlet. (Grant Linton/CBC)

She adds that when she moved here, she knew weekends when it would be busy, but the behaviour of some of visitors has been surprising.

"They'll bring all their picnic gear and they'll have a picnic on your front yard. And that's really upsetting to people."

Ian Sinclair, the local councillor, says the area has long grappled with the downside of popularity, but recently the crowds have grown.

"Everyone ... wants to come out and enjoy it. Why not? People need to get out of the big city and have a tour in the country and see nature. The problem is when a whole bunch of people come out at once."

Sinclair says the number of visitors have overwhelmed the parking and roads in the area and the protected natural environment means opportunities for expansion are limited.

Local Caledon Coun. Ian Sinclair says the number of visitors has ballooned and there's no way to expand the infrastructure to accommodate them all. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"There's no infrastructure available and the Forks of the Credit Road is very narrow. There's wetlands and woodlands on either side of it and very narrow shoulders you can't pull off. "

Over the years, the local detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police has been dispatched to the area every fall to deal with issues caused by the influx of day-trippers.

The OPP's Project Colours sends constables to keep traffic moving, control illegal parking and block access to dead-end roads. Sinclair says residents have had their driveways blocked by tourists' cars and officers have had to ticket and tow vehicles.

"Caledon OPP recognizes that the Belfountain community experiences higher levels of pedestrian and vehicular traffic due to people's interest in accessing the Conservation Areas, the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and the other publicly accessible lands in the surrounding vicinity," said OPP Const. Iryna Nebogatova in a statement to CBC.

"Public safety is a priority for the OPP and each year the police work diligently to ensure that residents and visitors alike can enjoy the changing fall colours within the Town of Caledon."

Over the years, there have been proposals to restrict access to local traffic only, but business owners who rely on busy weekends, especially in the fall, are opposed to keeping tourists out.

Residents plan to meet in the spring to discuss issues like parking and traffic, and talk about new ideas to balance the concerns of the people who live in the area with those of people who come to enjoy it. 

Motorcyclists Shelly Grimson, left, and Marty Shimano have been riding the Forks of the Credit Road and meeting up at the Higher Ground Coffee shop for years. They understand the concerns of residents and hope the bad apples don't spoil it for all. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Motorcyclists in particular know the ride out to Caledon along the Forks of the Credit Road can be exhilarating with its sweeping roads and tight turns. 

Shelly Grimson and his friend, fellow BMW rider Marty Shimano, understand the complaints of residents, especially about loud bikes.

"I think there are a lot of bad apples, not a few. You can just sit here on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon. And it's one jerk after another riding through here," said Grimson.

Shimano says the town has been a motorcycle mecca for decades.

"I've been coming here since the late 60s," he says. "It's the colours, the road, the river ... It's always been a biker's paradise, so it's going to attract all types of people, especially in the fall."

They both agree that visitors have to remember that they are guests.

And that's what Judy Mabee says is what her frustration is all about.

"It's just about being respectful. That is the biggest issue."

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.

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