Conservation Halton closes parks after overcrowding, rule-breaking and poor social distancing

Huge crowds filled the parks Saturday, while some people were having group fires and hopping fences, says the environmental agency.

'No choice' but to close parks indefinitely, environmental agency says

Cars filled the Hilton Falls Conservation Area on Saturday afternoon, with some parking illegally, according to a park spokesperson. This was among many rules visitors broke visiting the park this weekend. (Conservation Halton)

Conservation Halton says it had to close its parks indefinitely on Saturday, after a "massive spike" in people and "poor behaviour," as health experts desperately plead for social distancing. 

While many visitors were responsible in the parks, "many have demonstrated a complete disregard" for health advice, said Hassaan Basit, chief administrative officer at Conservation Halton, in a statement.

Crowds filled the parks on Saturday afternoon, said Basit, with parking lots filling up quickly and lineups onto the main roads.

Meanwhile, some people were lighting fires for group barbecues and hot-dog cooking, Basit told CBC News — despite signs stressing the need for social distancing.

Some visitors were hopping fences, he said, and parking on the road.

"We had no choice but to close [the parks] today," Basit said, The five parks that remained open closed indefinitely as of 3 p.m.

"It is very disappointing that the actions of a minority of the visitors have lead to, quite possibly, this privilege being taken away for everybody," said Basit.

"With social distancing ... it has to be all or nothing."

'We were trying to be one of the last available options'

Conservation Halton originally tried to keep five of its seven parks open for as long as possible, Basit said — although without facilities, programming or most staff except Park Rangers.

They put up signage reinforcing the need for social distancing, he said, and made the parks pay-what-you-can.

"We were trying to be one of the last available options ... just to get out, to avoid cabin fever," he said.

But without staff to deal with traffic and rule-breaking, they simply could not stay open.

One of the parks is also in Burlington, said spokesperson Katie Skillen, where the mayor declared a state of emergency earlier Saturday.

The team will look at options Saturday evening, said Basit, but he "highly doubt[s]" the parks will open until things return to normal.

Ontario's provincial parks are also closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parks Canada has closed anything "with a door," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week.

Stay 6 feet away at playgrounds

Meanwhile, in Toronto signage will soon go up at city playgrounds reminding children and parents to keep a minimum of six feet apart while using the equipment. 

"Getting outside, getting physical activity and certainly providing children that opportunity to burn off some energy — we can all appreciate why that's important," said Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health. 

"The issue here is around how do we maintain social distancing.  How do you keep six feet of distance apart from others as much as possible wherever possible."

Seven municipalities in Waterloo region announced today they would be closing all playgrounds.

The move also includes skateboard parks.