With the hotter weather driving many out to their favourite swimming spots, one of the most beloved beaches in the area will remain closed.
Big Sandy Bay on Wolfe Island has not opened to the public this year as it normally would, and will not be opening for the remainder of the 2020 season, according to Denis Doyle, Mayor of Frontenac Islands Township.
“The reason is because of the coronavirus pandemic,” Doyle said. “While the province recently allowed the opening of beaches, there are a lot of things you have to do… to ensure the local municipality, or beach operator, complies with the rules to ensure you are not running a risk of spreading COVID-19. We really wanted to open it this year, but it could not be justified.”
Doyle explained that there are a number of reasons why Big Sandy Bay, sometimes referred to as the Wolfe Island Sand Dunes, is not opening for the 2020 season, but all of those reasons stem from the current pandemic.
The first reason the beach was not opened this year centred wanting to slow down tourism to the Island in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus and protect the population living on Wolfe Island. Big Sandy Bay is owned by the provincial government, but operated by Frontenac Islands Township.
“We received strong objection from local residents to even allowing anyone into the Big Sandy Bay property,” Doyle said, noting that the public is still able to walk the trail on the property. “Some demanded that big concrete barriers be placed on the 3rd Line Road to stop cars from entering past Easy Lane, about a kilometer from Big Sandy Bay. Their point was by having Big Sandy Bay open, it would attract unnecessary people to Wolfe Island and there would be a high risk of some of them bringing this virus to the Island, putting many of our senior residents at risk of death.”
On top of this, several off-Island groups of people had started coming to the Island on weekends and using the beach for drinking, partying, and having large fires.
“To try to control this, we have hired security guards for the weekends for the rest of the summer to stop this unacceptable behavior,” Doyle said.
Another issue that deterred the opening Big Sandy Bay was a lack of staff. The Township requires a minimum of four student employees to open the beach. With the guidelines and policies that have to be met for such operations during the pandemic, Doyle said those students would have an increased workload – something he feels doesn’t compete with the government aid being offered during the pandemic.
“Before this all happened, we had posted for four students in late March and only had one applicant by the time the posting closed. The Federal Government was offering students money without [them] even working,” he said.
“If opened, there is all sorts of cleaning that needs to be done – washrooms, hand sanitizer stations, etc. By the time the province agreed we could open under those very strict rules, even if we got lucky and could find students to work, it would have been at least mid-July before we could open things up,” he continued. “And what student who is getting federal money for doing nothing would apply to work at a place where they would be facing the public coming from far away and possibly bringing the virus with them, spreading it to the workers and others?”
Lastly, Doyle said the costs associated with opening the beach during the COVID-19 pandemic and the availability of Public Health inspectors also played a role in the decision to leave Big Sandy Bay closed for the season.
“If we opened, we require regular Public Health inspections, which is difficult in this time of them being extremely busy trying to manage the pandemic. There was also no guarantee that we would get and maintain approval,” he said. “When we did the math, we would have been losing many thousands of dollars, meaning property taxes would have to be raised next year to cover the expense.”
Doyle expressed disappointment in not being able to open the beach, which is the closest natural sand beach to Kingston. He also explained that the 1.3 km walking trail through the wetlands to the beach is open, and that people are welcome to walk along the waterfront of the beach – so long as they don’t swim or remain idle in the area.
“It was a difficult decision, and I personally wanted to open, but when all was considered, it just was not justified,” he said. “Not that all agreed, but we did manage to keep Big Sandy Bay open to at least walk down there and, if you want walk at water’s edge, even getting your toes wet, but no swimming or laying around.”