I am a teacher at Wakefield School and a resident of Wakefield. I grew up here and moved back 11 years ago to raise my family. I am lucky enough to live near the Wakefield covered bridge.
Most locals no longer use the rock; there is garbage, broken glass, and loud music. The culture of the rock has changed. While we still observe some families and quieter visitors, the reputation of the space is that of a party space.
The noise is inconvenient, the other behaviours, fireworks, open alcohol, reckless motor vehicles around inexperienced swimmers, is dangerous. I wrote to the municipality a couple of months ago expressing my concern. The answer I received was the one that I received before: ‘When you see something, call the police."
Yesterday, I found myself sitting on my neighbour’s steps, as I had done five years ago, watching the search and recovery process of yet another young man who lost his life at the bridge.
As far as I know, there are many parallels in the two tragedies. Both were international students, both were inexperienced swimmers; neither knew the dangers of the river.
My heart breaks for the family and friends of the most recent victim, but I feel anger and frustration too.
In May I was told that signage would be placed at the bridge. There are some signs there now. The bridge holds signs posting the fine if you are caught jumping. There is a list of rules written in fairly small type tucked behind the garbage cans. The rules are all related to partying.
There are no signs explaining the steep drop off to deep water, no signs warning of the fast currents. The municipality recently took on the rocks at the bridge — it is referred to as a park, and we do benefit financially from its popularity. However there appears to be very little stewardship.
Whether we like it or not, Wakefield is a tourist destination. We attract folks not just from Canada but from other parts of the world too. Visitors see others in the river; they assume it is a safe spot to swim. Why there are no signs visually explaining the danger and more consistent monitoring for unsafe behaviour is a mystery. (As far as I know, alcohol was not a factor in the most recent death, but most definitely was in the 2015 drowning).
Today I am angry and sad. Moving forward, I hope that we can find a way to change the culture of this space, educate visitors about the power of the river, and protect both the people who visit and the river itself.