Tue May. 05 2009 - The Canadian Press

Mayors want Great Lakes beaches promoted

TORONTO — Better promotion of Great Lakes beaches and shorelines as marquee tourist destinations in Ontario might help protect them from further deterioration, a report released Tuesday suggests.

The five-point plan, produced by a group of Ontario mayors, calls for more public appreciation and engagement about the waters, which contain about a fifth of the world's fresh surface water and 95 per cent of North America's supply.

"There may be no better way to strengthen the public's connection to the Great Lakes than to enhance and promote beaches and other shoreline activities such as wetlands, natural areas and trails," states the report, which was presented at the inaugural Provincial-Municipal Great Lakes Summit in Toronto.

"Nothing resonates more with the public than open beaches and clean water to shape their perception of the health of the Great Lakes."

The province should promote itself as a major beach and shoreline destination and highlight the kilometres of sand and clean waters at the likes of Pancake Bay off Lake Superior, Wasaga Beach off Georgian Bay and the Sandbanks off Lake Ontario, the report recommends.

There's no question that people value their waterfronts and are passionate about keeping them clean, said Toronto Mayor David Miller.

"They expect leadership about water quality and beach quality issues, and every time we're about to make a beach swimmable or provide access to the water, by building a boardwalk for example, people come in droves," he said.

"(The report) is about creating a partnership to ensure that these incredible treasures that we have -- and the economic and recreational opportunities that come with it -- are preserved and enhanced."

The report suggests a co-ordinated advertising and public information campaign would also have a significant economic impact and keep tourism dollars at home.

"With the current economy in a downturn, (so-called) staycations will be more appealing, meaning that families may vacation closer to home," the report states.

"This presents an opportunity for Great Lakes enjoyment and experiences for basin residents ... (and) municipalities have an interest in also working together with the Ministry of Tourism and others to capitalize on and further enhance the growing Great Lakes cruising industry."

After the meeting, the province announced it would create a new office that will establish policies and actions to improve beaches.

Another key recommendation in the report -- which was also adopted by the province after the meeting -- was the commissioning of a study to estimate how much the waters help contribute to the economy. The mayors say the report could lead to stronger business cases for provincial and federal investments.

"The Great Lakes are an incredible economic resource and in fact, the economy around the Great Lakes is the world's third largest after only the United States' as a whole and Japan's," Miller said.

"We've never made the case about the Great Lakes as an economic entity properly and that will be a very powerful thing."

A similar appeal for more funding by American Great Lakes mayors resulted in a significant commitment from President Barack Obama. Canada's mayors -- who invest over $2 billion annually for the lakes -- are hoping for the same from province and the federal government, Miller said.

As a start, the mayors hope to establish a working group with provincial and federal officials to better collaborate on Great Lakes protections and share information.

"In the past, the Great Lakes as a whole have not been enough on the provincial and federal radar and that's one of the things we're trying to accomplish," Miller said.

The report also calls for a comprehensive algae control plan to control its explosive growth and a reduction of untreated sewage and stormwater discharges into the Great Lakes.

The municipalities involved in drafting the report include Blue Mountains, Chatham Kent, Goderich, Halton region, Kingston, Niagara Region, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay and Toronto.


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