After previously announcing that all Ontario parks would be closed until June, Premier Doug Ford said on Saturday that the province is going to start opening provincial parks and conservation reserves for limited day-use access, beginning this Monday, May 11.
“As we continue to make progress in our fight to stop the spread of COVID-19, we are carefully and cautiously reopening the province, starting with certain businesses and retailers, and now our provincial parks and conservation reserves,” said Ford during a press conference.
Once the first areas have opened, the remaining areas will be opening starting on Friday, May 15.
Recreational activities will be limited to walking, hiking, biking and birdwatching, for the time being, said Ford. Day-visitors will also be able to access all parks and conservation reserves for free until the end of the month.
“I encourage people to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but please do so in a responsible way,” Ford added. “Practise physical distancing and follow the rules set out by health care officials to stop the spread of this virus.”
On Monday, 520 provincial parks and conservation reserves across the province will open, and the remaining 115 will open on the following Friday for limited day-use activities.
“At this time, camping and other activities are not permitted at any provincial park or conservation reserve,” said Ford.
In addition, all park buildings and facilities including washrooms, water taps, campgrounds, backcountry campsites, roofed accommodations, playgrounds, and beaches continue to be closed.
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Ford was joined in making the announcement by Environment and Parks Minister Jeff Yurek, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“People are eager to enjoy the warmer weather, stretch their legs and reconnect with nature,” said Yurek. “In consultation with our health experts, we’re working to slowly phase-in the opening of Ontario Parks in a measured way to ensure the health and safety of visitors and staff.”
Yurek said that over the next several weeks, Ontario Parks’ staff will be conducting critical maintenance and other parks start-up procedures, so that more recreational activities and facilities will be available when it is safe to do so.
He added that parks staff will be on hand to “observed and ensure that proper social distancing is being followed.”