I live in a small town with a lot of waterfront property, yet a proportionately small amount of public water access. We have one small beach, two public docks and a small number of 'public' boat launches - somewhere in the area of 2-3.
It really frickin' grates my cheese that in a town that is surrounded by water, it is so bloody difficult to find a decent place to swim, especially with small children in tow. Our public beach is a bit of a mess. To get to a decent spot to swim, one must first wade through a couple feet of muck, then navigate a trail of slippery, moss-covered rocks before hitting a sandy bottom. At this point, you may be able to wander out another 50 feet or so before hitting a bed of weed. At this point, I'm maybe waist-deep in the water if I'm lucky.
Of the two public docks, one is surrounded by weed beds, and both garner a fair amount of boaters and/or anglers which make swimming hazardous at best. There's one boat launch that has half-decent swimming, but little to no beach to speak off. About 20 square feet of beach, I'd wager.
The rest of the water front that is taken up by cottages, waterfront homes, and luxury condos the latter of which not only restrict water access to the very wealthy, but also serves to prevent the rest of us from really even enjoying the view of the water.
So it comes that I have to venture out of town to find some decent swimming for my children and I. About 20 minutes from us there is a long stretch of white, sandy beaches known as The Tiny Beaches. Over the past few years, debates rages over the sanctity of public use of these shorelines as homeowners in the area attempted to subvert ability to access these public beaches.
This weekend it became clear that this fight for fair access is being lost. My girls and I had been made aware of a beautiful stretch of beach at the end of the 6th concession of Tiny. Crystal clear waters, sandy bottom with nary a rock or a weed in sight, water that stretched out for miles. However, access to this 'public' beach is impeded by a severe lack of available parking. That is to say, there is NO available parking. For a while, we were able to park in a vacant lot about 500 meters from the beach entrance. But this past Monday I was chagrined to find pink tape had been lined across the entrance to the lot and again we were thwarted, so off I drove to try and find parking that would result in less than a 20 minute walk with gear in tow. Well, you know what? The road that runs behind this beach, along with all the side roads, are lined with No Parking signs, or with Permit Parking only signs (a $60 fine for each three hour period).
Buy a permit. That's reasonable, you say?
Sure. Residents can get two permits for a cost of $15 dollars. If you're from out of town, be prepared to pay upwards of $75 dollars for a permit.. if you can get one.
Once upon a time, access to these beaches were free for the public. Then the property lining the shore began to get bought up by wealthy cottagers who did not want the great unwashed littering *their* pristine beaches. Anti-parking bylaws were passed, fences were built, and it became more and more clear that these 'Public beaches' - as are clearly posted - were only for the cottagers, the elite, and their friends... and for, perhaps, those hearty enough to walk or bike out to the far reaches of Tiny Township (which, if you are familiar with the area is a complete misnomer).
Last year one of the few remaining beaches with available parking implemented a 'Pay and Display' system, which is only a little less annoying than the permit parking. Plans are in the works for next year to have the last remaining 'Free beach' at Balm Beach go pay parking, and restrict parking on the main road leading into the village. Business owners in the area have protested metered parking, claiming it would cripple their business, which is a reasonable fear in my own humble opinion.
I can sympathize with some of the concerns of residents who pay property taxes to live in these areas. When I was dating the most recent ex, who lived in the same general area, it was hard to even get to his place while navigating through the throngs of people and cars at the beach. Thing is, the people, the crowds, the cars are hardly new. It's not like these folks move in and go "Holy Shit! People!" (well, maybe, if they buy during the winter months). No, for the most part, they should probably know what they are getting into. But there seems to be an entitlement amongst the tourist class to come into an area such as ours and squeeze out the local lower-classes by changing the rules of the game to suit their comfort levels. And of course Municipalities are going to go right along with it, because of the property taxes.
I guess what bothers me the most is that I wouldn't even have to deal with the bullshit parking issues in Tiny if my own constituency had a decent swimming area. I know, I know. First World Problems. People in the world don't even have water to drink let alone swim in. I know. I'm whining. But as someone who operates on a pretty strict budget and would like, once in a while, to have a fun day out at the beach with her children without settling for a mucky, boggy, rocky weedpatch of swimming hole, when there are white sandy beaches stretching for kilometers, if you only you can find somewhere to put your damn car, well, it's pretty frustrating.
*In the name of full disclosure, I should divulge that our family moved to this area from a suburb of Toronto after camping in the area for a number of years. However, our move was based less on needing a 'summer home' to 'get away from it all' and more on 'Wow, Aurora sucks and living here is expensive as hell!'