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Grey Sauble eyes increased parking fees for non-resident visitors

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After a hectic summer, Grey Sauble Conservation Authority (GSCA) is considering increasing its parking fees to deal with an increase in wear-and-tear on its properties.

“We recommend that we increase our parking rates to $10 a day,” said Rebecca Ferguson, manager of conservation lands for GSCA at a board meeting held on Wednesday. “We’d also like to propose that the season pass rate for non-watershed residents is increased to $75, and then we could offer a membership season pass for residents of GSCA, and this will stay at $40.”

At the $10/hour rate, GSCA staff estimate the ability to generate $161,000 in parking fee revenue in 2021, based on previous year’s capacity numbers.

Revenue generated from parking fees is allocated to trail and grounds maintenance for the 28,000 acres of natural areas that GSCA owns across both Grey and Bruce Counties. Funds also contribute to facilities such as washrooms, bridges, parking areas and pavilions.

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Ferguson said that staff have explored how parking is being handled and compared rates in the surrounding municipalities and other conservation authorities.

“We also looked at rates for the national parks and the provincial parks and also Scenic Caves, just to get an idea of what reasonable prices and what visitors from the south are used to paying,” she said.

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On average conservation authorities in Ontario are charging $8.59 per hour for parking, and season passes run at an average of $85.45.

“One that stood out to us was the Town of the Blue Mountains, which offers residents free parking and then they have different options – $5 an hour for non-residents, and then a $200 season pass option to those in neighbouring municipalities,” Ferguson explained.

GSCA staff have recommended the conservation authority roll-out a similar membership program as those individuals who live in the watershed have already made a contribution to the authority through their municipal levy.

According to Conservation Ontario, municipal levies make up 53 per cent of typical funding for conservation authorities, with 35 per cent of funding being self-generated through initiatives, such as parking fees.

For those visiting from outside the watershed, a season pass will cost $75, which would equate to seven-and-a-half hours of parking at the per-hour rate.

“I think that membership pass is a really nice innovation,” said Cathy Little, chair of the GSCA board. “I like the distinction between the members pass and just a parking pass. It really makes an attempt to build some community around some of these properties.”

Along with seeing a reduced cost for the season pass, the proposed membership would also allow for more direct communications – members would receive event notifications for annual events, as well as newsletters from various GSCA sub-committees.

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In terms of who will be eligible for the GSCA membership, staff and board members will be further defining the required criteria, as well as what proof of residency will be required when looking to purchase a membership.

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“Anyone who has a home in our watershed or partner municipalities would be eligible for the membership pass,” stated Tim Lanthier, CAO of GSCA. “So, whether that home is a place they rent, a weekend place or a full-time home.”

Board members supported the suggested price increase and also asked staff to explore the options of a week or weekend pass, for those who may be staying in the area and visiting multiple GSCA properties.

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