COVID-19 Park FAQs
When will the parks be open again?
We will be opening five of our seven parks for hiking and biking, using a simple reservation system, starting May 22. The reservation system will go live on May 21. Crawford Lake, Hilton Falls, Rattlesnake Point, Mount Nemo and Kelso Summit will be open to members and to the public, for paid access, from 9am-9pm. Other parks and facilities will be added in the coming weeks.
What do I need to do to access the parks now?
The new system that we have mentioned above will allow to us predict and monitor the number of people in the parks through an online reservation platform. From this point forward, parks visitors and members will be required to make a reservation prior to their visit. (The pilot has shown us that this process should take no more than 1 minute.) Here is how it works: After you have made your online reservation, and arrived at the park, you will drive up to the gate and stop. Your license plate will be scanned and the gate will open. If there is any issue with your license plate, a gate attendant will scan the barcode on your ticket. (The pilot has shown us that this process should take no more than 10-15 seconds.)
Why do we need to reserve our park visit in advance?
Being able to predict and monitor the number of people in the parks means that we can create the conditions needed for physical distancing, but this system will offer a number of other benefits, even once things are back to normal. For you, as a visitor, this system will show you which parks are busy and which are not, right down to the minute, before you leave your house. We know it can be frustrating to get ready for a hike, drive out to a park and then be faced with a lineup, so we hope that this system will prevent that. For us, this system will allow us to improve the experience of visiting our parks and reduce the impact that visitors have on our parks for a more efficient, enjoyable and sustainable approach to park management. We want you to enjoy nature when you come to our parks, not wait in lineups.
Why not open the parks all at once?
Trust us when we say that we would if we could. Each of the parks is a little bit different, which means that the improvements to infrastructure and operations are a little bit different for each park. We are working incredibly hard to open as many of the parks as possible, as soon as possible, but this process does take time, so we appreciate your patience, and we promise it will be worth the wait.
How many spots will there be?
With five parks open, we estimate there are about 15,000 timeslots per week available for visitor households to reserve, to safely accommodate about 75,000 visitors across the parks, each week. We feel this should be enough to meet the needs of our members and the public, but we will be using feedback to improve our model as needed.
Can I get a refund on my membership?
Conservation Halton Parks memberships will be extended for the duration of the park closures but memberships are (and have always been) non-refundable. Considering that memberships provide access to the parks for an entire year, that the parks were closed for just a few weeks, that memberships pay for themselves in just a few visits and that we are extending memberships for the duration of the park closures, we are confident that you will still be able to find value in them. Memberships will resume on May 22.
When will the extension be added to my membership?
With parks open on May 22, memberships will be back in effect, and the full duration of the park closures will be added to your membership, automatically. There is nothing you need to do to receive this extension.
Why were the parks closed in the first place?
Though many of our visitors were respectful of physical distancing, we observed some concerning instances of crowding. At the time, we did not have the infrastructure or operations to control crowding in areas like trail entrances and parking lots. We had also removed gatehouse staff to limit public interaction, and even though we quickly developed an online payment system, we still noticed that less than 20 percent of visitors paid the entrance fee. This was a difficult but necessary decision for us to make in the interest of staff, visitor and community safety. Conservation Halton did not close the parks due to direction from the province, as no such direction had been provided at the time. Instead, we closed them to help limit the spread of COVID-19, as per public health recommendations.
Why did Conservation Halton Parks not open on May 11 like Provincial Parks?
First, the recent announcement from the province was made in reference to “Conservation Reserves” or “Provincial Parks.” It is important to understand that the Conservation Halton Parks are not considered to be either of these. Instead, the parks are “Conservation Areas,” which are a completely different classification, and not governed by Ontario Parks. "Conservation Reserves" are a kind of "Provincial Park" established under the "Provincial Park and Conservation Reserve Act" and not a "Conservation Area" established under the "Conservation Auhotirites Act."
Why have we taken longer to open our parks than others?
Our parks are extremely popular and can get very busy. Instead of opening the parks as fast as possible, we wanted to take a little more time to make improvements, so that when we did open the parks, we would have be in a stronger position to create the conditions needed for physical distancing and be able to operate more efficiently than before. For years, there have been things that needed improvement at our parks—a reservation system, automated gates and contactless payment, to name a few—but it was never the “right time” for us to make these improvements. When we closed the parks, it wasn’t suddenly convenient for us to make these changes, but it was suddenly necessary. As a community partner, it is our responsbility to help protect public health during this pandemic. If order for us to do this, we want to be absolutely sure that we can manage visitation safely and efficiently, so that all of our visitors—including individuals, families, children and seniors—can appreciate their time in nature.
What have you been doing for the last two months?
In order for us to make these improvements, we have had to find new vendors, select new platforms, order equipment, install infrastructure at most (and, eventually, at all) of our seven parks, develop new processes and implement new operations. We have worked incredibly hard to do all of this in a matter of weeks and we have done all of this in the middle of pandemic as revenues disappeared, resources diminished and layoffs occurred. We could not be more proud of the team that has worked on these improvements and we appreciate the patience and support that most of our visitors and members have shown.
Why did you remain closed when experts said that the outdoors were safe?
It’s true that chances of transmitting or contracting COVID-19 while you are outside, in an open area, with fresh air and keeping a safe distance from others, are low, but there are a couple of things that we had to take into consideration: First, even though our parks are large, the trails, and trail entrances are narrow. Second, as mentioned above, we did observe some concerning instances of crowding, which indicated to us that measures were needed for physical distancing at the parks.
What about the Bruce Trail that goes through Conservation Halton Parks?
The Bruce Trail Conservancy has recently started to open some sections of the trail. As of May 22, if a part of the Bruce Trail passes through one our parks, which is open, that part of the trail will be accessible. If a part of the trail passes through one of our parks, which is still closed, that part of the trail will not be accessible.
I thought that Conservation Halton was funded by the government?
Conservation Halton does receive some funding from our municipal and Provincial partners for specific programs, but this funding can only be used for dams, channels, reservoirs, flood forecasting, regulations and other functions of watershed management. Conservation Halton Parks, on the other hand, do not receive any tax revenues or other funding from our government partners. Instead, the parks are funded through entrance fees and membership purchases. Conservation Halton made the decision, several years ago, to operate our parks without any tax revenues or subsidies, but this is not the case for all conservation authorities in the province.
I thought that Conservation Halton was part of Halton Region?
Conservation Halton, like all other conservation authorities, operates on watershed boundaries, not regional or political boundaries. Our boundaries and jurisdiction includes Halton Region, as well as some small parts of Peel Region, City of Hamilton and Wellington County, but we are not a part of Halton Region, which is why, just like the Conservation Halton Parks are not considered to be “Conservation Reserves” or “Provincial Parks,” they are also not considered to be “Municipal Parks.”
Why does Conservation Halton own the natural areas that make up the parks?
Contrary to a common misunderstanding, conservation authorities were not created just to enforce regulations. Conservation authorities were created to protect our natural resources from contamination, degradation or depletion, using an integrated watershed management approach. One of the ways that Conservation Halton, and others, endeavored to do this in our early days was to purchase natural areas that would help to protect headwaters and store floodwaters. Eventually, we developed trails and facilities, so that our communities could visit these natural areas, and our “Conservation Areas” became known as the “Conservation Halton Parks.” We believe that the best way to conserve the environment is to create opportunities for people to enjoy our parks and connect with nature