Sunday, June 24, 2007 – 08:00
Owen Sound Sun Times
Local News – People trampled and sat on the sand dunes during a ceremony celebrating Sauble Beach’s esteemed Blue Flag environmental designation Saturday.
Trespassing on the dunes was acceptable for years, but now it’s a social and environmental no-no.
There are signs asking people to use boardwalks to get to the beach and others marking a “sensitive area,” which asks people to not disturb the sand dunes, which most people observed.
But when it was time for the flag-raising to mark the beginning of the second Blue Flag season — signifying the beach has again met 27 environmental, safety and educational criteria — several people walked right over the grasses and plants on the dunes to get a better view.
One couple sat up on the dune in beach chairs under an umbrella for the entire ceremony. Another couple parked their bicycles on a dune to watch.
The dunes are about 20 metres wide, between the shore road and the beach. Dune rehabilitation is taken seriously, with 175 crossings reduced to 12 to reduce erosion between the Crowd Inn and 8th Street North. The second phase of dune management beginning next year aims to reduce the remaining 125 crossings from 8th Street to the river. Large signs on the beach describe why the initiatives are being taken.
“Will we ever get 100 per cent of the tourists using the beach access routes? The answer is obviously no,” said Ken Frook, co-chair of the dune management committee at Sauble, who took part in the ceremony.
Last year was the first when beach access signs and boardwalks to 8th Street were in place. Frook figures about two-thirds of people used the boardwalks. “It is public education,” he said, producing a pamphlet about dune rehabilitation.
After the flag-raising ceremony, Frook slipped over to to the couple under the umbrella on the dune.
“I gave them two educational pamphlets and I said if they were listening, perhaps they’d realized that we are encouraging people not to walk over the dunes and especially not sit in the dunes.”
Frook said he pleasantly told them the municipality doesn’t have a bylaw against being on the dunes and he wouldn’t force them off. But he said he hoped they now had a greater awareness of why he and the other Friends of Sauble Beach have taken on the dune protection project.
The visitors stayed put but thanked him for the information.
Dean and Cindy Stowe, from near Windsor, have been coming to Sauble and sitting under their umbrella on the dune for about 10 years. They didn’t know they were doing something wrong when they arrived about 9 a.m. They were surprised when people started gathering by the flag pole around 11 a.m.
“Didn’t even know it was a problem,” Dean Stowe said, with a little laugh. “I can see what they’re trying to do is grow this back in to protect the area, that’s for sure.
“But with all the ceremony I said to the wife ‘We can’t leave now, we’ll look like idiots.’ We might as well sit here and just pretend we’re not here, I guess.”
Last year they saw the blue flag but didn’t really know what it stood for, other than that the beach was kept up. They vowed they wouldn’t sit on the dunes when they come back.
Frook doesn’t want to see a bylaw to enforce dune protection. He’d rather people buy into the idea, but he concedes people don’t come to the beach to read signs, so public education will be an ongoing challenge.
This month Reader’s Digest declared Sauble Beach the best beach in Canada and compared it with beaches in the Mediterranean.
Local public health inspector Angela Newman said Saturday that Lake Huron water at Sauble meets a high standard for swimming. Weekly test results are posted at the beach.
This spring, endangered piping plovers were discovered nesting at the north end of the beach by the dunes. The area is cordoned off now as a precaution. It’s the first time since 1977 the birds have successfully nested on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes, experts say.
But the dunes are eroding. An estimated 14 dump truck loads of sand was swept off Lakeshore Blvd and carted away in one season a few years ago, Frook said.
The Blue Flag designation is for the portion of Sauble from the Crowd Inn to the Sixth Street washrooms. It’s awarded at the start of the swimming season and must be renewed annually. Beaches can lose their flags during the season if they don’t meet specific criteria.
The Blue Flag program, co-ordinated in Canada by Environmental Defence, began in Europe in 1985 and has spread around the world.