Tourists and transients torpedoed Tonquin’s tranquility this summer and locals want their municipal government to take action.
Tofino’s district office received several letters about abuse to the Tonquin Park area, and negative tourism impacts in general, throughout the summer and two such letters landed on Oct. 13’s regular council meeting agenda.
After hashing out potential strategies, like pay parking and keeping the park a secret from tourists, council agreed to meet with Tofino’s recreation commission in search of strategies.
Coun. Cathy Thicke kicked off the discussion by suggesting several hundred people visit Tonquin Park each day during the busy season and the landscape is being degenerated by abuse.
She said a washroom is needed as is better signage prohibiting RV’s and tour buses from clogging up the park’s small parking lot and added that the district should talk to Tourism Tofino about not popularizing the area.
“There’s about 10 parking spots at the park, they’re always full,” she said. “After five years of discussing a washroom in the park just this summer we have a porta-potty at the top in the parking lot, that’s it.”
Mayor Josie Osborne said council has a limited parks budget and does not have enough money to install a full-blown washroom.
“We have to actually step back and ask ourselves what tools do we have that can mitigate some of the problems that we’re starting to see at the park,” she said.
“It’s not a small tiny community anymore and it’s not just a picnic spot for families anymore. There’s no doubt we need to do something about it, the question is what kind of resources are we going to be able to apply to do it.”
She said the park has three access points and suggested pay parking in the small lot could steer drivers to more spacious parking areas like the nearby Community Hall.
Coun. Greg Blanchette cited two distinct problem-groups.
“One is just overuse of people going down to watch the sunset. They’re not tearing trees down, they’re not breaking branches, there’s just too many of them down there that may be the problem. The other problem is people who are camping, drinking, starting fires and breaking bylaws,” he said.
“Those two compartments require very different ways of approaching them and it would be very interesting to know what the balance is between them.”
He said he liked Thicke’s idea of keeping the area under wraps from tourists.
“There are a couple of tools I can think of right off the bat. One is kind of a negative tool, which is to stop publicizing it. Not put it on any of our signs and to in fact even ask Tourism Tofino and other bodies to go easy on it or not even mention it. It gets enough publicity through the grapevine,” he said.
He added increased bylaw enforcement could help.
“If we’re strategic about it, a few bylaw blitzes where you hit it really hard early in the season and you have a bylaw officer out there all night if necessary, or two of them, then that will start getting the word out,” he said.
Coun. Al Anderson wondered whether keeping the park a secret was possible considering the power of Internet chatter and also questioned council’s intent.
“I struggle with it because it is a public park,” he said. “We ask people to come use our trails, look at these great places to go, and now we’re saying, ‘Go away.’”
He also questioned bylaw’s ability to solve the problem.
“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to afford enough bylaw to completely dissolve all these problems,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster suggested the issue was not unique to Tofino.
“I think every city or community is struggling with how to provide public space and not have it dominated by one group whether it be panhandlers or drug addicts,” he said.
“We’ve talked about this before. We have bylaws but we’re not prepared to enforce them so, to me, we either have to look at the bylaws and see what we can enforce or else we just give up.”
He said boosting bylaw enforcement at Tonquin might just move the problem to other areas.
“If we clamp down on Tonquin they’ll probably move to the Monks property and then from the Monks property they’ll probably move to Chesterman. They’ll just keep moving around,” he said.
“We’ve got to determine what we want and how we’re going to get it.”
Coun. Ray Thorogood said Tonquin Park was once a haven for Tofino’s young families but has fallen prey to abuse and needs more bylaw attention.
“The abuse that’s going on down there, the cutting down of branches and trees and the garbage that’s left behind…enforcement is needed,” he said.
“Other than just telling them, ‘You’re doing something wrong’…stand there and make them clean up their mess while they’re there and dismantle their camping facilities. Don’t just mention it and walk off; stay there until it’s done.”
District CAO Bob MacPherson said bylaw officers spend more time at Tonquin Beach than any other beach in Tofino.
“That is where we get the most calls, that is where we spend more time than anywhere else, so we are aware of the issues that are occurring there,” he said.
MacPherson suggested if council wants to keep certain areas pristine than they should stop investing money into trails leading to those areas.
“We seem to have a bit of a split personality as a community at times and this issue really underlines it, where on the one hand we’re taking hotel tax money, investing it for tourism infrastructure, and then I’m hearing comments that we should stop telling our visitors where we’re investing that money,” he said.
“We’re naming trails Tonquin Trail and Tonquin Connector Trail, and then we’re surprised that people are showing up there…I think we maybe need to rethink some of this a little bit.”
He agreed with McMaster that the riff-raff would migrate rather than dissolve.
“This is going to be a bit of a game of whack-a-mole for a while. If we could wave a wand and solve things at Tonquin, it’s not like they’d leave town. We’ll be displacing them to somewhere else,” he said.
“We have a busy resort (community) that attracts a lot of people in the summer and a lot of different people in the summer and I don’t want council or the community to have any notion that there’s going to be a quick fix for any of this.”
He said Osborne’s pay parking idea could be effective in pushing parking traffic to Tonquin’s less congested access points.
With no simple solution in sight, council agreed to speak with its Rec. Commission about potential solutions.
Anderson questioned whether the issue was within the commission’s capacity.
“The Rec. Commission really started out to support programming and to raise funds for recreation opportunities and it’s sort of growing and growing so it’s almost like a body of staff that we should have,” he said.
Baert said the commission would be a good place to start.
“If this is an issue for the Rec. Commission and they don’t want to go there, we need to be having a different kind of conversation…and also a review of our corporate structure because we don’t have a director of parks,” she said
Tofino’s district office has not had a director of parks and recreation since a 2012 restructuring that axed the position and moved recreation to Community Sustainability Manager Aaron Rodger’s desk and moved parks to Public Works.