Kagawong River trails, falls area open for now, despite some non-compliance

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KAGAWONG—While a portion of the Kagawong River trails and Bridal Veil Falls area has been opened, should some of those who visit continue to not comply with rules in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they could be closed entirely again.
“We want to impress upon everyone that the last thing we want to do is ban any access to Bridal Veil Falls and the trails along the river again. But our goal is to keep the community safe. We don’t have many options, and we will do the best we can to keep them open even in these difficult times,” stated Bryan Barker, Billings deputy mayor after a Billings municipal emergency control group (MECG) meeting last week.

In a release from last week’s meeting it is explained, “Bridal Veil Falls and the stairs to access them remain closed. The viewing platform above Bridal Veil Falls and a portion of the Kagawong River Trail were opened last week. Physical distancing must be maintained between persons not of the same household and masks must be worn while using the viewing platform. Masks must be worn while using the trail if physically distancing is challenging.”

“We have been monitoring compliance with these measures and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, while most users have been following the rules and respecting the health and safety of themselves and our community, there have been numerous incidents of non-compliance. Should the non-compliance continue or escalate, we will be forced to close these reopened spaces,” the release explains.

Mr. Barker said just after a portion of the trails and Bridal Veil Falls area were opened, “within a day there were people in the pool under the falls, standing in close groups. Then there were people that walked the trails and went past the barricades,” said Councillor Barker. “Its unfortunate that full access can’t be granted but for example if people use the stairs and grab the railings—it is impossible to keep them all clean. We had a meeting after these incidents but decided we needed to give members of the public a little more time to get used to the new system in place, and that we weren’t going to shut everything down because of a couple of incidents.”

“We want to keep access open, and we’ve had letters and comments from people thanking (council) for opening up the access to the trails and falls,” said Councillor Barker. “It’s those people who are not obeying the guidelines that are causing the problems.” He said the township will continue to monitor the situation and will possibly look at having someone at the site to ensure people are following guidelines.

The Billings MECG continues to monitor the local COVID-19 situation and assess the reopening of various municipal facilities and amenities in the context of provincial emergency orders, public health guidelines and the staged approach to relaxing restrictions,” the release notes. 

The release points out the public washroom facilities at the Old Mill Heritage Centre remain closed. A portable toilet has been installed next to the Kagawong Pavilion.”

The MECG release continued, “planning for opening the Kagawong Market is underway. The market will be relocated to the Old Church on the Hill (outdoors) for this season in order to implement COVID-19 measures and to avoid construction around the small craft basin area.” 

As well, “the province has extended their state of emergency until the end of June. The declared state of emergency within the township remains in place at this time.”

“Last week, we promised more details on our volunteers’ efforts,” the release explains. “The township received funding from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Programs in collaboration with United Way Centraide North East Ontario/Nord-est de l’Ontario and, in partnership with St. John’s Anglican Church and other local volunteers, used the funds for reusable cloth masks for any interested Billings resident aged 55 plus. The funds were also used for care packages of groceries and personal care items, assembled and delivered to local seniors by our friendly volunteers. We hope this initiative helped our local seniors know they’re not alone and feel a little more comfortable getting back out into the community.”