Beach towns hope Ontarians stay home as weather warms, beaches open

·3 min read

Beaches in Southwestern Ontario are remaining open amid the provincewide lockdown, but some officials are urging out-of-towners to stay away as the third wave of COVID-19 rages on.

“We don’t have plans to close the beach off like we did last year. The province is asking people to get out and exercise,” said Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber. “We do encourage people to stay in your zone. We hope that we don’t get an influx with the lockdown that’s on.”

A notice on the Lambton Shores website states the Grand Bend beach is “open for those in the region for permitted outdoor exercise.”

It continues: “We hope to welcome new visitors to Lambton Shores as soon as it is safe to do so.”

During the first lockdown last spring, Grand Bend, along with most other area beaches, opted to close its sandy shores to the public.

Though that won’t be the case this year, Weber said it’s imperative those looking to use the beach for recreation follow COVID-19 safety protocols, such as distancing and staying within their household bubble.

“We don’t want to get harsh or impose measures,” he said. “We hope that everybody respects the rules.”

Under the provincewide lockdown, businesses remain open for curbside pick-up only, and restaurants can only offer takeout.

Washrooms at the Grand Bend beach are closed and won’t open until later in the season.

As the weather warms, beaches are set to become a hot destination for lockdown-weary Ontarians looking to escape from cities or embrace safer outdoor activities.

Last summer, crowds flocked to area beaches as the mercury rose, prompting concerns in some beach towns about importing COVID-19 cases to the region.

“We are expecting that it’s going to be a busy summer again,” Weber said. “We want people to be respectful.”

Along the Lake Erie shore, beaches in Elgin County also are remaining open for walking and recreation amid the current stay-at-home order.

Warden Tom Marks said a committee is monitoring the county’s COVID-19 response, and officials are working with lower-tier municipalities to co-ordinate a full-fledged reopening of area beaches, with staff, equipment and washrooms, later in the season.

“We’ll follow the guidelines from last year,” Marks said. “I think there will be lessons learned.”

The county is taking direction from the local health unit, and last year, safety measures included signs about social distancing and beefed-up bylaw enforcement.

“We’re better off than maybe a year ago because the majority of us are doing that social distancing,” Marks said.

He hopes the message that Ontarians ought to stay at home, and not stray far from their health unit region, gets across.

“If it’s a sunny day in Port (Stanley), . . . the throngs come. People want to be outside,” he said. “We need to be conscious. We’re trying to do what’s right.”

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press