The Hamilton Conservation Authority is spurning a consultant’s call to ban parking at Webster’s Falls on weekends and holidays between Easter and Thanksgiving.
Sandy Bell, manager of design and development, said staff will pursue other parking solutions for peak periods because there’s no public support for the ban, proposed as a way to end traffic tie-ups.
The plan would have asked visitors arriving by car to park at Christie Lake Conservation Area and take a shuttle bus.
Bell said potential alternatives include encouraging people to park at Crooks’ Hollow Conservation Area, creating additional parking areas in the vicinity and improving pedestrian access to the park.
Among ideas being floated for the latter is working with the city to create a crosswalk by the CN tunnel on the Highway 8 hill to make it safer for people in Dundas who want to walk to Webster’s and the Spencer Gorge.
Other key issues still to be resolved include access to the base of the falls. Stairs there were closed last May for safety reasons and the consultant recommended restricting visitors to a viewing platform to stop them from trampling on ecologically sensitive areas.
But like the shuttle idea, the proposal met stiff opposition at a public meeting in December, including from some members of the authority’s conservation advisory board.
Bell said staff will examine a recent suggestion by the board to consider creating a boardwalk in the lower gorge to still let people walk there without harming sensitive habitat.
“How do we protect the area down there and still have people? That’s the big job here,” he said. “Playing in the water, we feel, is having an impact on the ecology of the area, so even though it’s fun, we feel we have to take a stronger step to manage that end of things.”
Potential parking and access changes are among proposals for a $1.345-million makeover for Webster’s Falls that also include a reworking of park entrances to reduce traffic lineups, upgrades to trails and new wheelchair-accessible washrooms.
The plan is being driven in part by concerns the park and its rare and at-risk species can’t handle the growing number of visitors, now estimated at 80,000 per year, many of them from the Toronto area.
Bell said public input has convinced the authority to mothball some of the consultant’s other recommendations, including to no longer let cars park on the grass when the formal lots are full and remove existing structures like a fireplace and gazebo.
He said the overflow parking area will likely shrink to reduce its ecological impact and the other structures will stay, although the fireplace will be rendered unusable.
The authority won’t act on a suggestion to discourage picnics, but will try to find ways to shorten stays during peak periods so other visitors can enjoy the park.
While any changes will require the OK from authority directors, Bell said permanent metal fencing will likely be installed on top of the escarpment to keep people out of Spencer Creek to allow for vegetative buffers and prevent damage to its ecology.
Signs below and above the falls will not only ask people to stay out of the water, but also tell them why, which he believes will get buy-in from most visitors.
“We know there’s that percentage that it doesn’t matter, (who says), ‘I’ve done it before, I’ve done it for 20 years and I want to still do it,’” Bell said.
“When you’re doing this kind of balancing act, no one gets 100 per cent of what they’d like to see,” he said. “Our hope is that we are able to keep this area so that people want keep coming for a long time because of its beauty and natural features.”