Letter To The Editor: Resident Warns Of Disaster Waiting To Happen On Oxtongue River

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Oxtongue River. Photo courtesy of Tilly Varga

Hello, I am writing to you as a 40-year seasonal resident of the Oxtongue River. The Oxtongue River is a timeless area of beauty. The wildlife is unique and plentiful. The river offers many unique experiences that one cannot enjoy on a lake. Any guests that have stayed with us are always enchanted by the beauty the river offers.

As you all know, tourism is ever increasing in the area. This is a good thing for the local economy – merchants, resort owners, restaurants, service providers and the list goes on and on. The area is an awesome place for vacation and relaxation and should be promoted. Unfortunately, with the increased seasonal population up here, there is bad that comes with the good.

We have noticed that in the last few years the traffic on the river has increased. Again, this is a good thing. Majority of boaters that come up the river adhere to speed limits and are courteous. The one problem that the increased traffic on the river has also brought are jet skiers. Majority of them have no regard for the posted speed limit signs or any regard to the preservation of the river. I am no prude and, actually, I am bit of speed demon myself. I understand when you are 20 something years old, sitting on your jet ski on vacation, it’s a beautiful sunny day, the water is the right temperature and in your mind, you see the river as an awesome race track with it’s windy curves and the idea of taking that machine full throttle gets the blood pumping. I get it. The problem is that this mindset has caused some near misses. The most recent one involving my adult children.

This incident occurred on July 4, 2020. We watched 8 or 9 of them speed up the river. We heard them at Marsh’s Falls and, knowing they were going to turn around to head back to the lake, my daughter got into the canoe and was determined to ask the to slow down on the way back. My son grabbed his GoPro and hopped into our paddle boat to try and catch some footage. Of course, on their way back, my daughter was yelling to slow down, but all she got were either rude gestures or one jet skier in particular almost ran her over. It was very disturbing to say the least. This incident is what broke the straw for me to write. I know you’re all thinking, “Well it’s not the first incident and not the last.” Unfortunately, you are correct. I did call the OPP communications line on that day to report the incident, but I told them not to bother sending anyone over as they were gone and we had no other solid information we could offer them.

My family and I are convinced that there will eventually be a tragedy on this river. On the July 1 holiday, we took a cruise down the river on our own boat. It was a beautiful day and it was a busy day on the river. When we rounded one of the many blind corners we came across a family (approximately 8 to 9 people with children) with 3 canoes. They had stopped on one of the many sandy banks for a break and a swim. Everyone was frolicking in the water. This particular area they were in has blind corners approximately 30 feet each way from where they were swimming. If a group of jet skiers (or even one) comes down the river at full throttle, there is no way they would be able to stop or clear them in time. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

I also understand that the OPP does not have the funds to constantly be monitoring activity on the river. I remember as a teenager (approximately 40 years ago) we would witness OPP Marine Units on the lake and river several times over the summer monitoring the area, especially on long weekends. In the last few years, we are lucky to see them once a year. The last time was on a rainy Saturday when there was truly no one on the river. Again, I get it. They were booked to go that day and it happened to be a rainy day. Bad luck, Murphy’s law – whatever the case, it was a waste of time and money for those officers.

I see a few solutions that perhaps could be considered:

  1. Increased OPP presence on the river – perhaps not viable from a financial perspective.
  2. Increase in signage posted on the river – the government posted signs are not enough and do not do the river justice. The sign posted at the mouth of the river by the Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation is great, and I would certainly entertain the idea of putting one on our property.
  3. Banning jet skiers from the river – I understand that monitoring this would be a nightmare.
  4. Entering into some dialogue with the company who rents jet skis in Dwight (and other locations) to inform their customers of what is expected of them if they decide to cruise the river.

I truly hope that something can be done to ensure everyone’s safety before we see a tragedy.

Best regards,
Tilly Varga

The opinions of the writer of the above letter does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Muskoka411.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunately, yours is not an uncommon complaint these days. Each year there are more of these PWCs and their popularity is increasing. The majority are not designed to “cruise” on. Most of them are designed for speed….. otherwise, nobody would purchase them. Combine this with the uncaring attitude of those speeding along beaches, narrow rivers and close to other vessels is a recipe for disaster.
    Is insurance mandatory for these? I’ve never looked into it. Perhaps mandatory licensing (highly visible ID numbers), increased insurance rates (due to the racing nature of them), and increased liability for those renting/loaning them would be a good start.
    Lord knows the OPP cannot patrol every waterway, plus they simply disappear too quick.

  2. By law, operators should have their pleasure craft licence with them. This would indicate they know the rules. They also should be 16 or over. I have to say, the irresponsible operators I have seen don’t seem to meet these requirements. The cops should be stopping and inspecting as they do with all other boats, and handing out steep fines. I have seen kids driving these things between swimmers at the beach.

  3. As a resident of Dwight Bay for 65 years, I concur with these concerns. We all have certain freedoms, which people demand, but the countervailing responsibility for reasonable conduct seems to be forgotten at will. The PWC crowd and the local business that supplies the market for mindless buzzing and speeding is destroying one of the most precious parts of Lake of Bays-namely the tranquility that is the norm. It’s the thing that brings people here. A product and a business that occupies the public space to the detriment of reasonable peace can be restricted by the community so affected.Time for the province to do some risk management and spend on a crackdown before there is a death. The Oxtongue is no longer safe and peaceful. Very disturbing.

  4. I agree with Tilly. We have been at the Oxtongue since 1965. Boat traffic is increasing In addition to what has been said, erosion of the shoreline is incredible. We need the wake to go away.

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