Prince Edward County prepares for influx of tourists after ‘overwhelming’ 2020 summer

Click to play video: 'Prince Edward County prepares for influx of tourists after “overwhelming” 2020 summer' Prince Edward County prepares for influx of tourists after “overwhelming” 2020 summer
WATCH: County officials have prepared a Tourism Management Plan for 2021 in order to prepare for an expected wave of tourists flocking to the region's beaches and waters – May 18, 2021

Last summer in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Ontario’s Prince Edward County did not expect to see thousands of visitors coming to the area to sunbathe and swim in its pristine waters.

But this year, even as a third wave of the health crisis continues, they’re ready.

The county has prepared a Tourism Management Plan that outlines a number of ways the region will handle the almost-certain inevitability of tourists coming from out of town.

“In the heat of summer, people wanted someplace to escape to, and came down to the county,” says Steve Ferguson, Mayor of Prince Edward. “That put significant pressure on our resources and our staff.”

Read more: Prince Edward County mayor asks day-trippers to stay away for August long weekend

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Last year, the region’s low case count and scenic beaches proved to be very attractive to visitors coming from hot spots who were unable to travel outside of the province.

“We were just completely overwhelmed,” says Karen Palmer, marketing coordinator for Prince Edward County.

“I think you can visualize how many people are wanting to get out of lockdown, but it’s another thing to see them all sitting on the road to the Sandbanks.”

There were reports that on Canada Day weekend, as many as 2,000 cars were turned away from the aforementioned main attraction in the county, Sandbanks Provincial Park.

The beaches were packed to the brim with visitors soaking up the July sun.

Click to play video: 'Thousands flock to Sandbanks with many turned away from the Provincial Park' Thousands flock to Sandbanks with many turned away from the Provincial Park
Thousands flock to Sandbanks with many turned away from the Provincial Park – Aug 1, 2020

This left the county’s residents crestfallen, who wanted to enjoy the region’s attractions for themselves too.

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“We had a lot of complaints after that,” adds Palmer. “Residents felt pretty upset that they couldn’t move around and couldn’t enjoy some of the amenities here.”

There is still no official word yet on what limitations will be coming to the Sandbanks, although the park will be free to use from Monday to Thursday during the day.

County officials have hinted at imposing some restrictions on weekends and holidays, but specifics have yet to be announced.

Read more: Rural Ontario regions request residents from COVID-19 hot zones to stay home

The county will be cracking down on illegal parking surrounding these high-profile areas, as well as heavy traffic at boat launches.

“We aren’t going to charge by the boat anymore, we’re going to charge parking for the vehicles,” says Ferguson.

“The big issue was the Belleville Road boat launch, since the public doesn’t have access to the parking lot adjacent to it. So we’re closing that launch this year.”

Last summer’s beach craze remains fresh in the minds of county officials, including Ferguson.

He is again putting out a message to tourists that would have never been heard before the pandemic, in what is usually a tourism-driven economy.

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“Travel to Prince Edward County, at this time, is not something that is allowed under the lockdown rules,” he says.

“We certainly welcome visitors back when things return to normal, but now is not necessarily time to come to the county.”

Click to play video: 'Stay-at-Home Order Extended' Stay-at-Home Order Extended
Stay-at-Home Order Extended – May 15, 2021

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