Posted Sep 20, 2016, 2:05 AM
Join Date: Mar 2008
Funding shortfall, spiking population cited as culprits of Hamilton’s waterfall woes
(Hamilton Spectator, Teviah Moro, Sept 19 2016)
Wrist bands, parking fees, paid-duty police — it looks like a plan to control crowds at a massive rock concert.
But these are just some of the measures the city is exploring to manage a spike in visitors to Hamilton's waterfalls.
"That's all part of the brainstorming stage," Tennessee Propedo, the city's parks manager, said in recent interview.
After years of promotion, the surging popularity of Hamilton's waterfalls is starting to sting.
Great for tourism, but no so much for reluctant host communities, such as tiny Greensville, which is besieged with traffic — automobile and human — from spring to fall.
The spike in interest has led to more fire department-orchestrated rope rescues down the mouths of deep, rocky gorges.
The ecological fallout is also a big concern, with visitors leaving behind litter and wearing down vegetation, root systems, watercourses and rocks.
"It's a fine balance between nature and curiosity that you have to maintain," Propedo said.
Waterfalls in Hamilton are on city, private or conservation authority land. All types are feeling the effects of increased visits, their stewards say.
Propedo has met with Chris Firth-Eagland, chief administrative officer of the Hamilton Conservation Authority, to compare notes on how to strike that balance.
The HCA estimates Webster Falls hosted 140,000 people in 2015, up from roughly 80,000 two years earlier. (More than 80 per cent of those visitors are from the Greater Toronto Area, the authority notes.)
Social media and the quest for selfies with spectacular vistas as backdrops are driving more people to Hamilton waterfalls, Firth-Eagland said.
Loutish behaviour — fence-hopping, ignoring signs, littering, trespassing — has accompanied the influx.
"We're not prepared to deal with the selfie-taking, civil-disobedient crowd that doesn't come to see these areas for the same reasons as we used to go to these areas for," Firth-Eagland said.
Greensville is on the front lines of waterfall mania.
Residents along the small roads that lead to Spencer Gorge/Webster Falls Conservation Area are fed up with traffic jams, parking problems, litter and trespassing.
Some are critical of how the HCA has handled the issue, hiking fees and backing a private shuttle service — now stalled — to ferry 3,000 visitors a day on weekends to the falls while closing parking lots.
Such measures "seem inconsistent with trying to limit access, community impact or environmental impact," Marc Brittain, chair of the waterfalls' community liaison committee, wrote in an email to The Spectator. "They are consistent with a goal of maximizing revenue," he added.
That's not the end game, Firth-Eagland said.
"Sure, money is money, but we have pumped and continue to pump a lot of extra funding into the park," he said, noting HCA operates on about $14 million a year.
Webster Falls isn't an island of woe unto itself — over-visitation is a problem at many natural areas in Ontario, said Wayne Terryberry, vice-president of the Ontario Trails Council.
Park infrastructure — such as parking lots, signs, fencing, washrooms and trails — hasn't kept pace with a growing population, said Terryberry, who is also McMaster University's outdoor recreation co-ordinator.
"We kind of addressed it in the '60s and we haven't really kept up."
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