After welcoming nearly 13 million visitors at Ontario parks in 2020, Parks Canada and Ontario Parks have teamed up on the #ForTheLoveOfParks campaign to promote positive behaviours while visiting Ontario’s protected places.
Camille Girard-Ruel, superintendent at Georgian Bay Islands National Park and Beausoleil Island National Historic Site, said there were some really good things about seeing a renewed interest in Ontario’s natural spaces, but a number of issues came along with the high visitation rates. Park staff saw an increase in littering, off-trail excursions and human-wildlife interactions, among other problematic behaviours. Girard-Ruel said the parks services understand that the pandemic brought out a lot of people who want to discover their own backyard by visiting the beautiful protected places of Ontario, but it’s important that visitors plan ahead and respect the parks.
“The basic information that we’d like to share with the Ontario public is yes, please come, but do your research in advance,” Girard-Ruel said. “Do you need a reservation? Are you coming to camp? If you do, make sure you come prepared and you know the rules and regulations, and abide by them, so that you can be safe.”
Because nature can’t speak, the parks services are speaking for the protected wild places that don’t have a voice, she said. Parks Canada and Ontario Parks are anticipating high visitation numbers once again in 2021, so they’re asking visitors to research park-specific rules and to be prepared to take out what they bring into the parks.
“We did see a number of places impacted by littering and dumping, which is too bad because then it attracts wildlife to those locations and creates an atmosphere that could be potentially dangerous in the future, as well as having an environmental impact on the parks themselves,” Girard-Ruel said.
While there are many great opportunities for photos, visitors should be careful about taking pictures with wildlife, she said. Park goers should also bring water, food, sunscreen and proper footwear as staff have seen stilettos on difficult terrain from time to time.
Parks Canada and Ontario Parks ask visitors to check out social media updates as well as the weather before heading out to the parks and consider weekday visits to avoid long line-ups. Longer wait times last year led to increased aggression toward park staff, so while the park services have put extra measures in place to help with crowds, they’re also urging park goers to be kind.
“We’re asking now through the campaign that people are more patient,” Girard-Ruel said. “These places are possible for you to visit because of these amazing staff that are there to help guide your visit. We’re doing the best we can to make a really nice visit happen for people, but there are some capacity limits and we have to be mindful of that.”
Once in the parks, it’s important that visitors stay on trail and avoid taking souvenirs. While it may seem harmless to take a rock or flower, if all 13 million visitors did that, there would be nothing left in the parks, Girard-Ruel said. Staff want park goers to enjoy their visit as much as possible while also keeping protected places in good condition for years to come.
“If everyone collected deadwood in our forests to do their campfire at night for their smores, well then we would have no collecting debris in our forests to renew that forest in a natural way,” Girard-Ruel said. “We’re just trying to limit the impacts on nature so we can really preserve [the parks] for our generations in the future.”
For more information on visiting Ontario’s national and provincial parks, visit Ontario Parks and Parks Canada online. Share your favourite moments at Ontario’s parks on social media using #ForTheLoveOfParks to join the conversation.