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Conservation minister warns provincial park visitors ahead of Monday's opening
LONDON, ONT. -- Nature lovers are excited to hear 520 provincial parks and conservation reserves across the province of Ontario will open Monday for day-use.
However, government officials are cautioning those who want to hike, bike, walk or bird watch to use caution when it comes to physical distancing.
"If you are planning to visit a provincial park, only visit one closest to your community," says Jeff Yurek, Ontario's minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
The opening will be followed by another 115 parks which will open their gates five days later on May 15. Yurek advises that the open signs need to be put in perspective.
"Staff will not have washrooms or drinkable water right away," says Yurek, who also serves as MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
"It's important you come to the park prepared with hand sanitizer and extra water and other supplies just in case."
In Grand Bend, Pinery Provincial Park will wait until Friday which is the start of the Victoria Day long weekend.
However, the mayor of Lambton Shores, Bill Weber, is worried an influx of people during the holiday could cause a setback.
"I want people to keep washing hands, if you need to come for a walk, don’t make it a day trip because facilities aren't available," says Weber.
"There are no bars open, no beach open, and no facilities open. If you are going to go to your cottage stay there so we can have an open summer in July."
Steve Sauder of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) is pleased to hear that provincial parks will be opening, because he feels it should reduce the crowds at areas around the watershed.
UTRCA decided in March to keep its passive recreation and trails open during COVID-19.
Sauder stresses that even though it is open, amenities like picnic areas, playgrounds and washrooms will remain closed.
"We aren't sure the timeline of when we can open camping or boating," says Sauder. "However we are happy to have people take a walk and enjoy nature."
Yurek said Saturday there will be staff at the provincial parks to make sure guests are following physical distancing. He added workers will be on site to make sure garbage is picked up and there is safety available throughout the parks.