The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant implications to the outdoor recreation and tourism industry, as many parks and protected areas experienced significant increases in visitors as Ontarians looked locally for their recreation. As a result, the Trail Assets and Tourism Intiative (TATI) partnership, which is comprised of members from Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, the Niagara Parks Commission, and the Ontario Trails Council, focused their efforts on addressing issues relating to visitor experience and safe access to outdoor recreation spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parks and protected areas agencies experienced significant increases in visitation due to travel limitations that saw Ontarians turn domestically for their vacationing and recreation needs. For example, the Niagara Parks Commission experienced a 43.9% increase in visitors in 2020 in comparison with the previous year. Other agencies, such as Ontario Parks, have experienced such high levels of day-use visitation in 2020 and 2021 that they have instituted a new day-use reservation policy to reduce crowding and enforce capacity limits at 17 provincial parks. to reduce crowding and enforce capacity limits at 17 provincial parks.
In 2020, the TATI partnership published a list of best-practice principles for visiting parks and trails during COVID-19 for the public to consider when engaging in outdoor recreation. These recommendations are still highly relevant to all visitors, as it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to a safe and enjoyable experience while protecting natural areas for future users. As parks and trails continue to experience high levels of visitation in 2021, the TATI partnership team has updated the recommendations made in 2020 to best address the current issues facing protected areas. These areas are environmentally sensitive and require the assistance from all park and trail users to ensure they remain enjoyable for generations to come.
These guidelines are as follows:
- Follow current public health advice
- Maintain physical distancing (2 meters) from individuals outside your household and wear a mask or face covering in crowded areas where physical distancing may not be possible. Even if you have received a full vaccine series, following this recommendation is important to keep both yourself and those around you safe.
- If you have COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and self-isolate. Get tested and do not visit parks or trails.
- Follow directions relating to outdoor gathering limits and avoid crowded spaces. If you arrive at a park or trail and it is too busy, visit another location or return at an off-peak time.
- Be prepared.
- Whether visiting a park or trail for a day or a week, check the agency’s website or contact by phone to learn about how COVID-19 may have changed their operations. Due to high levels of visitation, many agencies now require reservations for all day users to avoid over-crowding, which causes damage to natural environments and impacts visitor experiences.
- Be prepared for limited facilities and services. Some areas may not have the capacity to offer washrooms or garbage services. It is your responsibility to be prepared to mitigate the need for these services.
- Follow all rules and regulations.
- As a result of high levels of visitation, many areas have implemented new rules and regulations to further protect parks and trails and the surrounding environment. Obey all rules and regulations regardless of whether they’re being actively enforced. Engaging in depreciative visitor behaviour harms both the environment and the ability for others to enjoy their experiences, which often results in further limitations and rules. Remember, it is your responsibility to know and follow the rules and regulations of the area you’re visiting.
- Be a park or trail steward.
- Our parks and trails serve all of us, and they need our help. Be a park or trail steward by obeying rules, following Leave No Trace principles, and reducing the overall impact of your visit wherever possible. Local parks and trails have helped people cope with the pandemic. We all must do our part to give back to the areas that have been instrumental in helping us to stay healthy during this challenging time.
This post was written in conjunction with John Foster, a Masters student and research assistant on the Trail Assets and Tourism Initiative partnership.