Billings unanimously votes down Bridal Veil winter gate

KAGAWONG—Billings Township council has voted emphatically against a proposal to gate the entrance of the Bridal Veil Falls parking lot in the off-season. 

“I deeply oppose the closure of the entrance to Bridal Veil Falls,” stated Councillor Michael Hunt at a Billings council meeting last week. “It is our most iconic geographic treasure.”

The township CAO had recently received a call from the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) for township consent on their desire to erect gates at the entrance to the Bridal Veil Falls parking lot, and to close these gates during the off-season (end of Thanskgiving Weekend, until the beginning of the Victoria Day weekend) each year. 

Deputy Mayor Bryan Barker, who chaired last week’s council meeting, explained council had received a memo on the issue from their EDO, Todd Gordon, on the issue. “In his considerations, (the EDO) noted that the parking lot at Bridal Veil Falls is MTO property, so this amounts to a courtesy. It has been standard practice for MTO, in recent years, to gate the entrances to their rest areas where it is practical to do so (an example is the site at Ten Mile Point, on Highway 6). Some of their locations do not lend themselves to this practice (an example is the site on Highway 551, on Lake Mindemoya, where there is long frontage on the highway, which is all accessible to vehicle entrance/exit).

The MTO stated the reason for wanting the gates installed is that leaving the site fully accessible results in the accumulation of waste, for which they have no process to deal with during the off-season (their maintenance contract is for the warm season only), council was told. The request is being made now because the ministry wishes to include installation of the gates as part of the current Highway 540 rehabilitation. 

Although not stated, there is likely a risk management (liability) aspect to their thinking as well. “Given the environment in which we are all operating, this should not be surprising.”

Mr. Gordon, in his memo, had indicated, “this affects the off-season. People do access the falls year-round, but obviously the level of activity from mid-October to mid-May does not compare to the warm season months. The parking lot itself is not plowed during the winter, although some people do drive in there depending on conditions.” He pointed out “the impact on economic activity is likely to be minimal, given the season, with the greatest impact likely to occur at the beginning and end of the off-season.”

“I think by locking the gates to the falls it won’t solve the problem as people will find ways to access the falls,” continued Councillor Hunt. He noted as well, “we are trying to encourage tourists to the community. I agree we need to encourage people to park in the parking lot (Park Centre) as well.” 

“I agree with Michael,” stated Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack. “It took many years to have Bridal Veil Falls recognized as a number one attraction, and it is most beautiful in the winter time. People will go there regardless. We are trying to support the businesses in our area. It might cause more of an issue (if the falls are gated off). So I agree that we should say no to the request.”

Councillor Sharon Jackson noted how popular the falls are to visitors and locals alike for viewing and photographing. Even if a gate was put up at the entrance, “people will find a way to get in, they will go under, or over the gates to view the falls.”

Councillor Barker said, “I think they (MTO) are asking council out of courtesy, they don’t say that they are definitely going to put gates up at the entrance to the falls, but are asking for our opinion.”

Council passed a motion unanimously objecting to the MTO consideration for a gate to be put up at the Bridal Veil Falls entrance in the winter.