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London, Ont., residents enjoy conservation areas, but keep their distance

The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and Fanshawe Conservation Area sign along Clarke Road, July 19, 2017. (Matthew Trevithick/AM980).
The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and Fanshawe Conservation Area sign along Clarke Road, July 19, 2017. (Matthew Trevithick/AM980). Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL File

The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) is seeing a lot more people than normal, and officials are urging everyone to keep respecting the rules if they want to keep visiting.

“We’ve been really happy the way people have been using our areas to date. People have been following rules and and we hope that continues,” said Steve Sauder of the UTRCA.

“We really want to keep these facilities open for people.”

While the UTRCA is not considered an essential service and is therefore impacted by provincial legislation aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, the conservation authority notes that its parks and trails are open during daylight hours for cottagers, club members, and seasonal campers to take a walk, go for a bicycle ride, or drive around.

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

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With many people either working from home or not working at all, the number of weekday visitors to its conservation areas — Fanshawe in London, Wildwood in St. Marys, and Pittock in Woodstock — has roughly doubled, according to Sauder.

“More people are looking for an opportunity to get outside and that’s great. This is one thing we feel that we can offer because it has been shown through literature that being outdoors [reduces] stress and we know this is an extremely stressful time for people.”

Sauder said conservation areas within the UTRCA would remain open during the day for those looking to walk, cycle, or drive around so long as the public continues to do its part.

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“What we’re asking people to do is when they arrive, make sure that it’s not too busy at that time. If it’s really busy, I would simply leave and come back another time. We’re asking people to come during daylight hours and to not gather in groups. So this would be just the people from your own household and staying well away from other people,” he explained.

“We’re asking people to take care of things themselves. And one of the easy guidelines for that is take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.”

READ MORE: Could the COVID-19 pandemic be an environmental inflection point?

The regular camping and boating season normally begins May 1, but it has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point, no timeline has been provided.

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