Prince Edward County struggles with tourist traffic amidst the pandemic

Sandbanks Provincial Park. File photo

The tourism office for Prince Edward County is asking people to avoid visiting “on a whim” over the Civic holiday long weekend.

“Provincial and municipal beaches are crowded and they’re closing within hours of opening,” said a July 29 statement on the tourism office’s official Facebook page, Visit the County. “Thousands of day-use beach visitors are turned away each weekend, creating gridlock on County roads. Even conservation areas and other outdoor spaces have been closed due to overcrowding and littering. It’s been wild out there.”

Thousands of tourists typically flock to Prince Edward County in the summer for beaches, wineries and short-term rentals. But, a spike in tourist activity over the past three weeks is creating chaos for community members.

Resident Jordan McCormack has launched a petition to Mayor Steven Ferguson and Ontario Premier Doug Ford asking them to limit tourism to the area, with over 4000 signatures.

“This year has been worse than ever for tourism in Prince Edward County,” McCormack said. “It has forced a handful of beaches to be shut down due to being over-capacity, littering and not following guidelines.” McCormack said local residents are crowded out of their favourite beaches, restaurants and areas of town by tourists, despite the pandemic.

“The beach is shut down due at max capacity as early as 9 am,” he said. “It’s a zoo every year, but this year has been the worst by far.” Noting that PEC is a retirement community, McCormack wants to avoid the COVID-19 risks perceived from tourist traffic.

McCormack said he plans to present the petition in a deposition at an upcoming meeting of Prince Edward County Council. “There are a lot of people outraged in this community,” he said.

Angel Rogers, co-owner of Rock N Rogers Pizza in Wellington, also agrees that tourism traffic has become overwhelming. “The last two weekends have been out of control,” she said.

“Tourism for the county is important and it’s what businesses need. In the 18 years we’ve been open, we’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences with tourists. But right now, the day-trippers are ruining it for everyone,” she said.

In response to the amount of garbage left in their parking lot, Rogers said their restaurant has had to double the frequency of their dumpster service.

She notes that there have been shortages of parking space and public washroom availability, impacting residents and travellers alike. Visitors have cursed at her in her restaurant when she stopped them from using the washroom, she said, even though they weren’t buying anything and refused to wear masks. Keeping the washrooms clean is particularly critical during the pandemic she noted.

The uneven opening of the province could be a factor in the tourist traffic. Toronto and Peel region remained in Stage 2 of provincial reopening later than the rest of the province, joining Stage 3 today. Rogers suspects it was tempting for city-dwellers to escape to the County, where the COVID-19 risks have remained lower.

Rogers believes that months of lockdown is making people tense. “In 18 years I’ve never seen the disrespect and the rudeness like the past two weeks,” she said. While she generally loves people and loves her business, she said the current situation is challenging.

Her main message at this time, she said, is to ask visitors to practice kindness and respect.

“If you’re going to come down here, please respect the beautiful County, pick up your garbage,” she said. “Respect the people who are working through the pandemic, be kind.”

She said she feels particularly sorry for local youth who haven’t been able to get on to the beaches in their own community. “They’ve been locked up too,” she said.

Rogers suggested that making one beach in the county exclusive to local residents might be another good way to handle overtourism.

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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