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Conservation authority at mercy of elements

By Jessica Lovell
Guelph Tribune
It’s not unusual for weather to disrupt winter activities at Grand River Conservation Authority parks, and this year is no exception.
Early this month, the conservation authority announced that trails were closed at all its parks, nature centres and properties due to damage from December’s ice storm.
“We’re just telling people to stay out,” said manager of communications Dave Schultz. “It could be dangerous.” While icy trails littered with fallen trees and branches present one type of hazard, there is also the potential overhead danger of broken branches that have yet to fall, he said. Cleanup in parks like Rockwood Conservation Area and Guelph Lake Conservation Area is not the first priority for conservation authority staff, said Schultz. They “are closed at this time of the year anyway,” he said.
“We’re focusing our attention on the parks that are open to the public and the cottage lots,” he said.
Belwood Lake is one such park. The park is currently open for ice fishing.
Guelph Lake is commonly used by ice fishers, but the activity is not sanctioned by the conservation authority.
Whereas there are staff on hand at Belwood Lake keeping track of who is using the park, checking ice conditions and providing updates when conditions change. Guelph Lake is not open in the winter, and ice conditions are not monitored regularly.
“If somebody had a problem in the middle of Guelph Lake, we have no one there to check on them,” said Schultz.
Likewise, the park is not open for hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, although the conservation authority is aware that people do go into the park anyway, he said.
“It’s not something we make a fuss about,” he said. But he also noted that sometimes the conservation authority issues news releases as a reminder to people of the dangers of ice fishing on Guelph Lake.
Last week’s news release about trail closures asked the public not only to stay out of Guelph Lake and Rockwood conservation areas, but also the Elora Gorge and the free-entry trail at Starkey Hill, among others.
It is still expected to take a few days before people can get to their cottages to check on them, said Schultz. The conservation authority is also concentrating on getting two other parks that offer winter activities – Laurel Creek in Waterloo and Pinehurst Lake north of Paris – up and running, he said. Getting Shades Mills in Cambridge open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is also on the list.
The Guelph Lake Nature Centre has been running, with a winter camp going ahead as scheduled last week and staff working to ensure it’s ready for school programs to start up again, he said.
The conservation authority plans to work on trail cleanup at its closed parks before they open in the spring to ensure they are safe to use, he said.

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