People of all ages including youth have fun fishing Jessup’s Falls Conservation area in Plantagenet. Courtesy photo

­FINCH – As the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to stay home and cancel their summer plans, South Nation Conservation’s (SNC) public Conservation Areas across Eastern Ontario are serving as a refuge for many seeking to get out of the house and explore their local environment.

While many agencies closed their parks, trails, and public forests, SNC worked with its member municipalities and local health units to keep as many sites open as possible throughout the spring, and finally safely opening all of its seasonal parks on May 19.

Although the pandemic continues, the conservation authority is satisfied with its efforts to connect more people to nature. From March to June, SNC recorded over 50,000 visitors at its Conservation Areas – doubling previous visitation records.

“We’re proud to be providing people with outdoor natural spaces during the pandemic,” said John Mesman, SNC’s communications lead. “It seems more important now, than ever, to step outside, take a breath of fresh air and stay active.”

But the record setting visitation has also come with an increase in litter, vandalism, trespassing, and property damage in some parks, explains Mesman.

“We kindly ask our visitors to continue to be respectful of other park users and facilities, and to properly dispose of garbage and your pet’s waste,” he added.

Some recent examples include motorized vehicles accessing walking trails; heavy bicycle use on pedestrian paths; prohibited fires; damaged park infrastructure; and dog stool left in public spaces.

To respect other trail users and to ensure the protection of our ecologically significant public land, people and their pets are reminded to stay on marked, maintained trails, and dogs are not permitted to be off leash.

SNC also reminds residents that its Conservation Areas are accessible for day-use only and overnight camping and bonfires are not allowed on any of its properties.

Although visitation is up, the Conservation Authority has yet to see the sorts of overcrowding observed in other parks throughout the province. SNC continues to ask that people respect physical distancing, not gather in large groups and consider visiting other conservation areas when parking lots are full.

When boating, please be respectful of other boaters and shoreline properties, please reduce your speed when boating within 30m of a shoreline.

SNC manages over 20,000 acres of community forest in Eastern Ontario and many of the public, day-use conservation areas have been donated to the Authority through SNC’s Land Securement Program to help maintain natural legacies and to provide people a place to step outdoors and into nature.

SNC is a not-for-profit and community-based environmental agency that relies on donations and self-generated revenue to protect and enhance the local environment across its 4,441 square-kilometre jurisdiction, on behalf of its 16 partner municipalities.

More information on SNC’s conservation areas can be found by visiting the Conservation Authority’s website conservationontario.ca.

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