By Doug Draper, Reporter's View
Columns - Feb 22, 2008

Protect public access to lakeshores

These cold, gray days of February may make it hard for many of us to imagine enjoying a walk, in short sleeves and sun glasses, along the shores of Lakes Erie or Ontario.

Yet for those of us who long for those moments, we may take comfort in knowing that we're really not all that far away from the warmer days of spring and summer when we can do that -- to the extent there is anywhere left along Niagara's shores of the Great Lakes we still have access to.

Thanks to more than half a century of provincial and municipal lethargy that continues to see buyouts of parks, nature sites and other lakeshore lands by private owners who proceed to slam fences and No Trespassing signs right down to the waterline, there are few places left for residents and visitors to our region to spend a few moments enjoying our Great Lakes unless they are willing to pay a fee at a toll gate.

The way things are now, we're rapidly approaching a time when there will be no place left for anyone to enjoy a few free moments, kicking a little sand between their toes along the shores of Lakes Erie or Ontario.
Thanks to the continued apathy or willing complicity of too many of our provincial, regional and local municipal leader, we're facing the day when a walk along Niagara's shores of the Great Lakes will be the exclusive right of those with the means to purchase a condominium or home in a gated community along the lakes' shores

That is why a private members' bill, being tabled in the provincial legislature this winter by Kim Craitor, a Liberal MPP for Niagara Falls, whose riding includes Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake, should draw the support of all of us who believe the Great Lakes are a public resource we not only have a responsibility to protect and preserve for present and future generations, but a right to enjoy.

Earlier this February, Craitor braved freezing winds sweeping off Lake Erie to walk whatever shoreline we -- the public -- still have access to with Stephen Passero, a Fort Erie resident and president of the Ontario Shorewalk Association. And it wasn't long before the pair was cut off by one of those makeshift fences, declaring an entire stretch of the beach, right down to the waterline, as the exclusive domain of someone living in a private house on the bluffs somewhere up above.

"It is not the right thing to do," said Craitor to a Niagara This Week reporter of one of many such barriers lakeshore owners have taken upon themselves to erect right down to the water, with little or no protest from others in our governments. "The public should have the right to walk the shoreline along our Great Lakes."

To that end, Craitor is tabling a private member's bill that is not about taking away any of the rights of owners of properties along our lakeshores to enjoy their properties. It is only about offering the rest of us the same rights available to people in many other jurisdictions along the Great Lakes, and Atlantic and Pacific ocean fronts, to have access to a few metres of sand or shale along the shoreline.

This is not the first time Craitor has tabled this bill. He tabled the same bill last year with little or no support from other members of the provincial legislature, or from regional or local municipalities in Niagara, with the result that the bill died when the legislature recessed for a provincial election.

This time, Premier Dalton McGuinty and his government should demonstrate the vision and courage to pass a bill that will ensure every member of the public has at least some access to the shores of one of the greatest natural resources in the world.

The fate of this bill should not only rest on support from the McGuinty government.

Support should also come from members of the opposition and from any and all representatives of our regional and local municipal governments who believe in at least some public access to the Great Lakes shores.

We've already seen too many shoreline areas lost or all but lost, from a popular old beach many locals remembered as "the sand hills" near the border of Port Colborne and Wainfleet, to the Easter Seals Lakewood Beach camp in Wainfleet and possibly a natural gem known as Marcy's Woods in Fort Erie.

Craitor's bill must be passed, not only for the sake of our own quality of life, but for the sake of Niagara as a destination for new residents and tourists to this region. We will all be poorer if we lose what little access we have left to our shorelines.


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