By Steve Hubrecht

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of people using the Columbia Valley’s beaches, in part because while pandemic protocols are curtailing many activities, simply visiting a beach is still possible to do safely and in a socially distant manner.

Last week the Pioneer reported on Invermere residents dissatisfaction about overcrowding at Kinsmen Beach. However, that spot is hardly the only beach in the Columbia Valley to see visitor figures rise. In Canal Flats, residents are also expressing concern stemming from the increasing number of beachgoers at Tilley Memorial Park, pointing in particular to congestion at the Tilley boat launch.

“Many using the boat ramp are first or infrequent visitors and are unaware of the proper protocol and the congestion which can be experienced. This has led to unnecessary friction and confrontations,” wrote Canal Flats residents, Ross Mortlock and Gord Herman, in a letter sent to Canal Flats councillor Doug McCutcheon.

The pair urged council to take action and strongly recommended the village post signs outlining boat launch protocol, educating people on how to behave when launching their boats, docking them and taking them out. Mortlock and Herman outlined that council should specifically consider reminding the public not to moor on the boat launch, to treat village staff with respect (and warn the public that abusive behaviour to staff will not be tolerated), and to put in ‘no wake’ marker buoys near the launch. They suggested that those who are abusive to village staff should have parking privileges at Tilly revoked.

A summary report of Tilley Memorial Park’s summer beach pass operations, presented to the village council at its most recent meeting, gave statistical backing to Mortock and Herman’s anecdotal concerns about how busy the launch has become in the past two years. The report outlined that, in 2019, the village collected $20,000 in fees from 1,342 park passes and 948 boat launch passes. In 2020, the first ‘COVID-19 summer’ rose to $35,000 in fees, from 2,908 park passes and 1,662 boat launch passes. The 2021 numbers were down from 2020 but still much higher than the pre-pandemic 2019 levels, with the village this summer collecting nearly $29,000 in fees from 2,227 park passes and 1,128 boat launch passes.

“What can we do to solve the problem?” asked McCutcheon at the meeting, adding council may want to look at the possibility of a second boat launch.

Council members agreed to consult with district staff and add the issue to their 2022 strategic planning.