Wednesday, July 29th 2020, 9:21 am - The Town of Wasaga Beach has implemented four beachfront pods - designated areas for beachgoers to safely social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s their way of mitigating crowds, something they say they want to avoid after droves of visitors hit the beach Canada Day weekend.
Ever since the start of the pandemic, people have been itching to get outside and out of the confines of their backyards. This summer, Ontario has been particularly hot with several heat waves of sustained 30-degree weather. Naturally, the best place to beat the heat is by the water, at the beach. But beaches have fallen victim to overcrowding as people flock to popular spots like Wasaga Beach.
“We've divided Beach Drive Promenade into four different parts. One of our beach pods are for residents only, the other three are open for members of the public,” said Jeff Regan, the coordinator of municipal law enforcement and property standards for the Town of Wasaga Beach. “We've tried to share space equally in order to ensure physical distancing amongst the pods.”
Each pod is delineated with property boundaries. Approximately 800 people can fit within the pods. The biggest public pod can hold up to 226 individuals.
“At the entrances, there's a tent with beach ambassadors ready to welcome any members of the public looking to enter the pod, providing some education and hand sanitizer before entering,” said Regan. “They are there to issue wristbands to those members of the public who have been granted access. We're issuing hand sanitizer. We're asking members of the public to complete a self-assessment before entering.”
Wasaga Beach implements public pods amid COVID-19 outbreak. Courtesy: Marta Czurylowicz
Regan added that when the weather is nice, the beach gets busy very fast, quickly filling the pods to maximum capacity. Parking lots are down to 50 per cent capacity as well. Anyone caught parking without a pass will receive a ticket. Anyone violating any rules within the pods could also receive a ticket of $350.
“Our experience has been very positive. I think people understand why we've needed to put these rules in place and for the most part everyone's really supportive of it,” said Regan.
One pod is specifically reserved for residents of the Wasaga Beach area. Those wishing to enter the pods must show proof of residency -- be it a driver’s license or a piece of mail with a name and address.
Joann Cole-Fitzpatrick and her husband have lived in Wasaga Beach for almost three years. She said this past Canada Day was the busiest she’d ever seen.
“We couldn't even really spend some time here over the July long weekend because it was packed. Everything was packed and the residents just stayed away,” she said.
Weekends are usually when the beach is packed, but with the majority of people working from home or off, weekdays have become just as busy, according to Cole-Fitzpatrick.
“We really enjoy having the pod experience. It just gives us that peace of mind that you can come and enjoy your own beach in your own backyard,” said Cole-Fitzpatrick.
RESIDENTS BEG VISITORS TO TAKE TRASH WITH THEM
“The only downfall is that we would want people to come and make memories and leave footprints, [but] instead, they leave garbage,” said Cole-Fitzpatrick. “We've taken some bike rides all the way down from here to beach six on our pedal bikes and the garbage that people leave is...it's just disgusting.”
She says people are not adhering to the rules. Lots of beachgoers are bringing glass bottles with them and sadly they are leaving them behind. There are bylaw officers around to enforce the regular rules, but with so many people flocking to their shores, it’s proven difficult to enforce.
Our Municipal Law Enforcement Department is busy daily helping enforce municipal bylaws and provincial emergency orders. To reach the department call 705-429-2511. #WasagaBeach pic.twitter.com/dMnvtSX7qf— Town of Wasaga Beach (@WB_Media) July 27, 2020
For some residents the pods aren’t enough to bring them back.
“They don't come anymore. Too many people, too much garbage,” said Cole-Fitzpatrick.
“A lot of residents are just getting pools now in their own yard,” her husband added.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE GO IF ALL THE PODS ARE FULL?
Not to worry there’s plenty of beach to go around.
“There are 14 km of beach areas here. It's a provincial park. So beaches from one to six as well as Alouette and Wasaga Beach, those are all open to the public as well and there is lots of space to spread out,” said Regan.
There are no ‘pods’ there, but people are still encouraged to stay six feet apart.
“Ontario Parks hires their waterfront safety officers as well as park wardens. They will be patrolling for basic beach regulations and they’re on stuff on weekends and all week really,” he said.
You can find more information on Wasaga Beach's new protocols in the video that leads this article.