Taylor to redraft Peace Island Park opening plans

District of Taylor councillors want more details on what it will take and what it will cost to fully reopen Peace Island Park to campers this year.

Council met May 19 to review a proposed plan to open the park June 1 to RVs only to limit the spread of COVID-19. The plan proposed to open 22 sites under public health protocols and restrictions, including no public washrooms or other facilities, with the potential to reopen more sites if campers followed the rules.

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But council agreed that opening the park to full capacity is key to recovering the costs to operate it. The District has budgeted $188,600 for the park this year.

“This is going to be, for me, about cost recovery, whether it be achieved. If it can’t be achieved, then why are we opening the park?” said Coun. Brent Taillefer. “If we can’t do it safely, or if it’s going to be hard for the caretakers to police it, and we’re not going to recover the money from it, then why open it?”

Mayor Rob Fraser agreed, and said he wasn’t willing to open the park with the proposed limits.

“It’s too much money for the results that we get out of it,” Fraser said. “I just want to know what it’s going to cost us to operate fully, with some basic restrictions.”

Council agreed that campsites are spread far enough apart to allow for social distancing, and that restrictions can be put in place to limit the number of units and campers per site. Campers could also be limited to one family at the group sites if they were to open, they said.

However, the pavilion will remain closed for the season due to a ban on mass gatherings, and the park will not be open for group events, including weddings, reunions, and grad celebrations.

“We would be in a better position to cost recover and make it worthwhile rather than just shutting it down and closing it entirely for the rest of the year,” Fraser said. “If we can’t come up with a reason to do it to where we’re actually recovering some costs, and we can do it safely, then there’s not much sense in doing it.”

A key concern for park caretakers Adam and Nancy Ragan is maintaining the regular sanitization of park washrooms, which were proposed to stay closed for the season. Up to five extra employees would be needed to clean them more often throughout the day, they said, and sanitizer has been difficult to  due to shortages.

Crowd control and enforcement is also a concern, especially when campers have been drinking and are belligerent. And monitoring the hundreds of day users who would use the park would be much more difficult, they said.

"The problem is a lot of people are very frustrated. They're very stir crazy right now because they've been pinned down with this for long already. It's not like going to Walmart to pick up 15 items on your grocery list and go home," said Adam Ragan.

"These guys are coming here to let loose, unwind, forget about COVID-19, and have a few drinks around the fire. Once they get a few drinks in, then they're like, 'Let's call our buddies up, it's not a big deal, there's only two of three of them,' and that's how it does progress. I've had to deal with many, many, many altercations. I don't want to, but it will happen because people are people."

"How much do we police or monitor, and how much do we (say) you know what, it would be better to just leave it alone, let them break the rules, so our safety is first?" Ragan added.

Council and caretakers agreed there would need to be a zero-tolerance policy, and that campers would face a summer-long ban for breaking the rules.

"If they don't like the rules, they don't have to camp there, and they can go somewhere else," Ragan said. "Whereas the people that say, 'Hey, makes sense, let's enjoy the park,' I dont think we'll have a problem with any of them."

Council directed parks staff and caretakers to draft a new opening plan for consideration, that takes into account campsite monitoring, and the costs to safely clean washrooms and collect garbage. Council also wants a legal opinion on whether park playgrounds should be opened, and what the District’s liability would be if a child were to knowingly contract the COVID virus at the park.

The plan also proposed to limit campers to B.C. residents only, and require them to provide their recent travel history. Buildings including the pavilion and Old Fort would stay closed, while picnic tables were also proposed to be removed from all sites. All sites would be disinfected after checkout.

“I would love to see the park open to full capacity as much as we can, but keeping everybody’s safety in mind,” said Coun. Michelle Turnbull.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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