It’s not just Wakefield and Chelsea’s Church Road neighbours that are feeling overwhelmed by the influx of rule-flaunting visitors ‘from away’ at a time when we all need to be social distancing. With flights cancelled, the Quebec government is actively encouraging us all to “staycation” close to home during this pandemic. It’s no surprise that this message, combined with a serious case of cabin fever (or rather, condo fever) after being cooped up for months, is creating a situation where urbanites are jumping into their cars and flocking to small, picturesque places like the Gatineau Hills, which offer access to the beautiful outdoors and less COVID-risky fresh air.
But as we can see by the front page stories in this edition, that influx of visitors is taking its toll on small towns here, and across the province. The Montreal Gazette reported this week that the Quebec town of Rawdon completely closed its popular beaches and waterfalls to outsiders after being overrun by urbanites trying to escape the heat wave. “Overwhelming a place, crowding on beaches or in parks, leaving litter behind and failing to socially distance is boorish and rude” one of their columnists points out.
We couldn’t agree more — and the tension is reaching a boiling point, especially in the Wakefield bay. But tourism is the number one industry in our particular region, including Wakefield and Chelsea; it’s what keeps most local businesses going, and so shutting everything down isn’t an option.
We checked in with Wakefield La Pêche Chamber’s president Shelley Crabtree, who had some excellent ideas for the village as it copes with Dockapalooza — ideas that Chelsea should also consider as it readies to open its community trail’s river access points. After all, it’s not like the region’s popularity, or the virus, are going away in the next 18 months.
Parking – Why not have paid parking in some areas (maybe the Community Centre) and direct visitors to walk to the boardwalk? Paid parking attendants could ask/check so locals don’t have to pay. Paid parking on weekends could supply the revenue to pay for the attendants, or invest in a parking machine that can also check license plates for residency.
Greeters – Wakefield’s own “Bay Watch” but with more clothes; a handful of people in bright green T-shirts that say something like “Welcome to Wakefield: respect social distancing” who walk around politely reminding people just with their presence that it’s not a free-for-all.
More porta-potties – this is self-explanatory.
An awareness campaign – A combo of social media, media interviews and those big electric road signs on the side of the highway that all remind people that social distancing rules are expected to be followed and will be enforced. Tourism Outaouais just announced a $3 million campaign to promote the region; some of that should go toward educating people about how to be a COVID-respectful visitor.
Limits – Maybe the electric road sign could even be programmed to warn drivers the “Village is full” the way the NCC uses them at entrances to the Gatineau Park.
Lifeguards – This one requires more discussion, but drinking, swimming and bridge-jumping is a dangerous combination. It merits investigation at least.
While the La Pêche mayor and council have proactively held discussions and improved signage, the situation in Wakefield is escalating and requires more immediate action before locals completely blow their lids – or something worse happens on the waterfront.