Connectivity and Tourism: View of two extremes and a possible solution

Community, Environment, Local, News, Sustainability, Tourism, Trending Now

Being a longtime campaigner for sustainable tourism and ecotourism, I write again not to inform the individual about  the environmental degradation which is occurring within our vulnerable landscape, but to remind one of how road and highway infrastructure just may be the root cause of Bruce County’s tourist takeover. For more on environmental strain and degradation, please see: http://www.saugeentimes.com/113%20x/Op-Ed%20Joseph/Template%20(2).htm, or http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2016/10/31/bruce-peninsula-needs-government-to-step-up-group.

 

Can road tolls help end sustainability crisis?

Photo courtesy: Owen Sound Sun Times file photo, Pinterest, & Tom Jackson Equipment World

Talks about having designated road tolls in some parts of the region are growing. Highlighted at community gatherings, the idea of setting up stationed toll booths or ‘gateways’ is gaining momentum. While there may be no clear answer as to how, or if road tolls reduce traffic, there are multiple studies released online by research firms stating that the majority of Ontarians won’t pay the fare in order to drive their vehicles.

Identified by the Sun Times as the third top local story of 2016, (“School changes top local story for Owen Sound and area.” 03/01/2017. Owen Sound Sun Times.) the Bruce Peninsula crowding issue was no stranger to local headlines. As the sufficiently known ‘tourist invasion’ drew on nerves, close and far, many across Ontario are anxious to see what the 2017 summer season will bring for the Peninsula and its surroundings- including Meaford Mayor Barb Clumpus.

Clumpus says she has been reading the concerns from people of the Bruce and has taken valuable interest in the discussion.

During an interview, Meaford mayor Barb Clumpus described the Bruce Peninsula as being conveniently located, as a welcome mat to the rest of Southern Ontario. “The Bruce is just up (highways) 10 and 6. It’s quite literally a hop, skip and a jump away from the GTA,” she said.

She also recognised the hot-spots in South Grey remain those along the corridor of highway 26 into the Blue Mountains and Collingwood. “We also want to encourage extended stays as well into some of the areas that normally wouldn’t receive much traffic off of (highway) 26.”

When comparing Meaford to certain places on the Bruce Peninsula such as Tobermory, Clumpus believes Meaford may have an added benefit—partly due to the municipality’s off-the-beaten-path location. Just this week, a Globe and Mail column was released, declaring Shelburne a growing “bedroom” community. Highway 10 only runs in one direction (south-east to north-west). Can this alarming increase in population growth mean an end to the Bruce’s hidden entrance? One cannot help but worry about this corridor’s future, ballooning and growing by nearly 40% (39%)!

“We pride ourselves on our authenticity… and we do not aspire to appeal to absolutely everyone. It may take a bit of effort to discover. Being off the beaten path, we may have the advantage of being an exploratory adventure that has its own charm and appeal.”

The problem with boasting a neat, direct (no highway interchanges) drive from any urban centre in Ontario is quite clear for the Peninsula, especially given the area’s geographic layout and water properties. “The highway 10 and highway 6 corridor is the main and most direct artery to reach the Bruce Peninsula which is bounded by water on both sides of the peninsula. The national park in the community is a huge attraction, particularly this year of the 150th anniversary of Canada where national parks are open- free of charge” she said.

Meanwhile, 2,100 kilometres away, off the shore of Quebec, and 290 kilometers north of PEI sits an island chain (archipelago) that seems to be lost— away from the rest of the world.  Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine: a sandy island stretch that emerges out of the brilliant blue of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

This island chain is considered Canada’s Hidden Riviera- and with good reason. Sporting a year-round population of roughly 12,000 people, the Iles (or the Maggies, as referred to in English) are not only one of Canada’s most sparsely concentrated land masses, but one of Canada’s most sequestered.

The French and Acadian roots dwell deep here, and colourful homes dot the windswept landscape. A small portion of these islands is roadway, with most homes being connected with the occasional dirt road. This extremist off-the-beaten-path lifestyle is one that many islanders take pride in, including the Mayor of Grosse-Île, Rose-Elmonde Clarke.

“Geographically, the islands are oddly situated … while topographically, the Magdalens appear as a lonely orphan far from ‘mother’ Quebec and out of the sight of any land mass.

“The only access to the Magdalen islands is by ferry or plane. Situated in the middle of the Gulf St-Lawrence. The Magdalen-islands are beautiful and a unique place in the world,” she said.

“It can be a quiet vacation for anyone who loves the nature, beautiful scenery, beaches surrounded by water… a place where you can be by yourself and relax with the quietness of the nature and the sound of the sea.”

This very beauty and fondness of local, natural resources is what called Pauline-Gervaise Grégoire’s parents to open up an artisans shop thirty-five years ago on Havre-Aubert island. Artisans du Sable remains one of the archipelago’s premiere specialty studios. “We work with sand… with 300 kilometres of sand around the islands; it is a very abundant resource. Today, we sustainably use the sand half from the salt mine which often gets filled with sand from the wind.”

Gervaise explains how lack of connecting transportation infrastructure regulates the amount, and the duration of one’s stay. “Once the flights and boats (from mainland Quebec) are full, we can’t take more people in. So it guarantees that we are not over visited. It’s undiscovered,”

“It’s ratio of land and sea– you always see the sea. It’s calming and inspiring, and there is something to it that is similar to New Zealand or Scotland,” she quickly added.

In Ontario, many who have long admired the Bruce’s natural beauty all year long say they are ready to abandon summer trips all together. A theory termed the “pull-push hypothesis” in the means of economic development, suggests that while mostly positive attributes are attracting people to a location, newfound repelling factors can exert and emerge. Pushing some of the population away.

Hamilton resident Ann Behnke has been visiting Grey-Bruce and hiking many of the waterways along the escarpment for most of her life.  She claims that soaring growth in the GTHA (Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area) is exerting more traffic come the summer months, when the city dwellers grow tired of the busy modern lifestyle.

“With the population growth in the GTA, brings more looking for a close and quick getaway, that’s not too far for them to reach… infrastructure and specifically the roads, is the link to all places possible.”

Behnke, too, believes the geography of the region has a direct role on how officials see visitor distribution trends. “Geography would keep you trapped from exiting (the Peninsula) especially in rocky-terrain landscapes. The feasibility of ferry trips may be an option (to divert excess visitors, and to alleviate road congestion throughout the Peninsula).”

“When I see people throwing their garbage on the ground without thought, it breaks my heart… The biggest issue is the arrogance of everyone,” she said.

Behnke says it’s high time to act—considering the issue of congestion has had plenty of time to regenerate new thoughts within the community. She also believes a pedestrian-only village centre and the promotion of carpool methods may be the only way to please everyone in Tobermory. “I think by providing and insisting on carpooling, bus transfers to and from the various areas will reduce the need of having vehicular traffic in the small towns. Allow an area on the suburbs for carpool parking lots… the town must have enforcement to disallow non-residents to drive in. This way, the busses can get in and out quickly versus being clogged amongst others trying to find parking.”

“When I went to Bala (Muskoka Region) for the Cranberry festival, they allowed cars and busses in this very small town (centre), and it was ridiculous trying to get in and out… It was completely disorganised, made me sick and I have concluded not to go back again because of the onslaught of traffic.” She said.

Mayor Rose-Elmonde Clarke wants Grey Bruce to know that road tolls may indeed be something to consider. “I believe that road tolls would help, financially, those places that are overly-visited by tourism. But, there should be some kind of road toll system so the residents from those places wouldn’t have to pay. I think it may cause some effect in reducing the quantity of visitors. My personal opinion, it should be up to those places… to choose what would be in the best interest of their residents.”

From the bustle of Tobermory, to the tameness of Meaford and beyond to the hidden Îles-de-la-Madeleine, it is well known that road infrastructure, or lack thereof, plays a role in connecting tourists to designated tourist areas and maintaining a sustainable stream of visitation. Why not use this very feature, which literally drives tourism, to the advantage of all footing the bill? After all, the Bruce is just off of the highway.

It’s not an isolated issue, in fact it’s one many towns are facing. While it may seem to some as if the natural balance of tourism lies in the unknown, the truth is there are multiple possible solutions that can along with being beneficial to our pristine notoriety, act as an economic trigger. The fear of committing to a long-term solution may arise among some, but shall we really shoot down our only chance of optimal contentment? Now the question stands: the future Gateway to the Bruce Peninsula— is it a no, or a go?