PORT AUX BASQUES – Residents near Grand Bay West beach are tired of tourists camping out in the beach parking lot.
“It’s a parking lot, not a campground,” says Lynn Jamieson, whose lives on Kyle Lane, the narrow road that leads to the beach and parking area.
Jamieson, the group’s spokesperson, says the problem is not the tourists who use the beach for day fun, but campers who use the parking lot as a free campsite.
“The issues we had last summer was just unbelievable,” says Jamieson.
She says that some overnight campers have been rude, and have been spotted littering and trespassing despite signs warning they were on private property. The area residents have been reaching out to the town since last September, and have met with Mayor John Spencer and the Public Works Committee, but believe they aren’t making much progress.
Long before the development of Grand Bay West beach as a tourist attraction, Jamieson maintains that a sign prohibiting overnight parking was posted in the area. Before the boardwalk was put in there wasn’t even a proper parking lot, just a sandy spot adjacent to the beach.
“They had horseback rides there,” recalls Jamieson. “There was a sign down there on the post by the fence that said ‘No Overnight Camping Permitted.’”
Although beach area residents are happy to see more people visiting the area, Jamieson believes that the town’s advertisements on the Marine Atlantic ferries along with traffic signs promoting the beach to tourists have had an unintended, adverse effect.
“We never had any issues whatsoever until last summer when they started advertising,” says Jamieson.
In 2018, the town council invited feedback on developing the beach area by hosting public meetings, offering a forum for concerns, as well as suggestions and improvements. The responses led to construction of washrooms and a light to help discourage vandalism. On May 11 the residents sent a letter of their own, outlining multiple major complaints about tourists camping overnight.
Among them were concerns that area campgrounds might take a financial hit because tourists were choosing to camp for free in the parking lot instead, campers hogging multiple parking spots, littering and its impact on the wetlands and protected wildlife, trespassing on private property, invasion of residents’ privacy, confrontations with residents over noise issues, and prohibiting local children from biking in the parking lot.
“It is affecting tourism because they’re not going to the campgrounds so they’re not putting any money back into the town,” maintains Jamieson. “They fill up their vehicles with gas and food before they even get on that boat to come here.”
Council subsequently mailed out a reply granting some requests, such as the installation of additional Doggie Bag stations, plans to further expand the parking lot and trail repairs. However, the petition to install a new sign prohibiting overnight parking was denied. In the letter, the Town cited the positive and direct economic benefit of tourists.
“Currently, an available campground or RV parking is not available within the Town limits. Until such accommodations are available, Council will not post signage or discourage tourists from using facilities at Grand Bay West Beach,” wrote the Town.
Council re-iterated that stance during its Aug. 18 meeting, when Jamieson outlined the resident’s concerns in person.
“I respectfully did not agree with you that people don’t spend money,” responded Coun. Jim Lane. “Tourists wherever they park, whether it be up on the campground or there, they spend money in town, so we’re trying to draw that in.”
By allowing visitors to overnight on the parking lot, Lane says Council is trying to minimize the potential loss of tourism dollars because there currently exists no alternative within Town limits.
Lane also spoke about ongoing efforts by someone trying to build a private campground within town limits.
“We received documentation that we were preventing one of the local entrepreneurs from – we were giving him a hard time with regards to his trailer park,” said Lane, pointing out that the town does not actually want a campground at the beach. “What we’re trying to do is get through to give this gentleman time to get his up and running. That’s the whole intent for us.”
He refuted the claim that Council was hindering the entrepreneur’s efforts.
“We’ve done everything possible that he needed done, at any given time, to get his trailer park ready, and we were told last year that this park should be ready by this year, but it’s not. Apparently it’s not,” said Lane. “We’ve been checking from time to time.”
He did not dispute that residents were experiencing issues with the campers, but stated that he could only share the Town’s perspective.
Coun. Melvin Keeping shared that the Town has looked at developing its own site for overnight camping, but halted efforts in that regard once the entrepreneur revealed similar plans. Should no private campground materialize, council may re-examine developing its own dedicated campsite.
Mayor Spencer made inquiries surrounding signs being put up prohibiting overnight camping, and shared that another local found a letter on their windshield telling them they shouldn’t be camping overnight. While Jamieson had no knowledge of the signs, another member of the group claimed responsibility.
Although the signs were posted on private property, Spencer said he was going to pass the matter over for investigation, but MacIsaac noted, “You can’t put up a sign without a permit from the town, whether it’s on your property or anywhere else. Without a permit from us, we’ll have to issue an order for removal.”
In a separate interview, Jamieson stated that she has even reached out to the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment without success, and says she has also sent a letter to the Minister of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation.
A spokesperson for the province responded to inquiries surrounding the protected wetlands and bird habitats via e-mail.
“The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities has not received any complaints regarding campers in the area of Grand Bay West. Matters related to camping and potential litter concerns within a boundary should be directed to the town office.”
In 2000, Town Council under Mayor Aneitha Sheaves did draft a bylaw prohibiting overnight RV camping near the ASIL building after complaints about potential revenue losses and environmental concerns over unauthorized graywater dumping by a nearby campground owner and members of the Chamber of Commerce.