The days of being able to park your car by Webster’s Falls or the Spencer Gorge on a weekend and hike wherever you want may be numbered.
A proposed new master plan for the area is calling for their parking lots to be closed on weekends and holidays between Easter and Thanksgiving as a way to end the traffic snarls that have plagued the area in recent years.
It also hopes to keep hikers out of the bottom of the gorge.
A consultant’s report on the plan, to be presented to a Hamilton Conservation Authority advisory board on Dec. 13, concludes the area can’t handle the estimated 80,000 people who now visit each year, a growing number of them from the Toronto region.
It proposes that visitors on peak-season weekends be directed to park at Christie Lake Conservation Area, where a shuttle bus would take them to and from Webster’s.
Parking on those weekends would no longer be allowed at Optimist Park and Greensville school, and street-parking prohibitions would be extended to Highway 8 and Harvest Road.
The recommendations are part of a proposed $1.345-million makeover for the area that includes upgrades to trails, fencing and signage, construction of wheelchair-accessible washrooms and reworking of park entrances to reduce traffic lineups.
The plan also calls on the authority to try to stop people from trampling around the bottom of Webster’s Falls by limiting access to a viewing platform on new stairs that would replace the dilapidated stone ones, shut since May for safety reasons.
The section of the Bruce Trail leading to the lower gorge would be similarly off limits. The goal is to reduce the impact on a provincially significant area of natural and scientific interest that is home to several rare species and six considered at risk.
“We’re going to need to have a plan of making sure people go down and have their view from a viewpoint, and don’t have an access to go behind the falls and climb all through the creek,” said Sandy Bell, the authority’s manager of design and development.
“We do see that certain things are being affected down there from a vegetation point of view, that we’re losing a lot of it.”
The consultant’s report says the changes are needed because of a dramatic increase in visitors, one fueled by the area’s growing attraction for people living outside Hamilton.
A survey taken on May 20 of this year counted 1,088 visitors, of which 69.6 per cent were from Toronto and 12.7 per cent from Mississauga. Only 4.4 per cent were from Hamilton and 1.2 per cent from Dundas.
By contrast, a 1976 survey of registered a paltry 52 visitors, with slightly more than half from the Hamilton area and just 11 per cent from Toronto.
Bell said requiring people to park at Christie may discourage some visitors, but shuttles have been used successfully at other environmentally sensitive parks, including at Point Pelee.
“Clearly, what the consultants told us was, with the land we that have, we don’t have any way of managing the traffic within the park,” he said. “The area’s that busy and with the number of vehicles coming, we can’t handle it.”
The Dec. 13 meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. at the HCA headquarters at 838 Mineral Springs Rd. in Ancaster, will allow the public to offer its views on the master plan. The authority is also welcoming written comments from those unable to attend.
“Because we want that place to be there for your kids to take their kids, we need to make some management changes in the way that we operate the park,” Bell said. “We’re trying to get a plan that’s something that most people are in favour of.”