Cottage resort braces for fall colour takeover
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | August 17, 2017
White Birches Cottages, a family-run cottage resort minutes from Algonquin Park on Oxtongue Lake, is bracing itself for the fall colours and the thousands of visitors they attract.
But it’s not planning to roll out the red carpet.
In addition to the closure of nearby roads during the months of September and October – a motion passed by Algonquin Highlands council in June – the resort’s manager, Jason McGuire, suggests a 110 lbs. German shepherd and 24-hour surveillance might be needed as well.
“It’s reached that point … come September I’m not sleeping. It’s like we have a resort on Yonge Street, downtown Toronto,” McGuire told The Highlander. “It’s the most stress I’ve ever been through.”
That’s because in September, thousands of visitors travel up Highway 60 to enter Algonquin Park for the fall colours.
But over the past two years, entry to Algonquin Park through the highway has slowed to a crawl, and many visitors have chosen to exit the highway, just a few kilometres short of the west gate, and take a detour through the hamlet of Oxtongue Lake.
And that’s when problems occur.
Strangers overrun the resort, walk across private property and peer into rented units, frightening paying customers, said McGuire.
On more than one occasion, visitors have paddled the lake in a canoe or kayak reserved for paying customers, adding liability concerns to the list of problems.
It’s caused a 30 per cent dip in business during the month of September since 2015.
“I’m neglecting my clients because I’m trying to keep my property safe. And with the lack of business we’re getting through September now, we’re losing money. It’s a stressful time,” he said.
His mother and resort owner, Jenny, said five regular clients have already told her they won’t be returning during the Thanksgiving weekend, equating to approximately $3,000 in lost revenue.
“And the two weekends prior to Thanksgiving are busy, too,” she said, adding some customers have told her they might abandon visiting the resort in September altogether.
Mahendranath Tiwari isn’t one of them.
He and his family from Toronto have visited the resort every Thanksgiving for a decade.
“It’s a nice and friendly place where our kids are able to play and the rest of the family could relax, talk to each other and watch the children,” Tiwari told The Highlander. “When we first travelled there, there (were) no strangers coming onto the property.”
But for two years, Tiwari has been helping guide strangers off the resort. Many of them are dropped off by bus.
“I’ve had to shoo a few of them away,” he said.
It’s baffling how blatantly people ignore the “no trespassing” and “private property” signs, he added. “I’m pretty sure they don’t care.”
Jenny emphasized it’s not about being anti-tourist.
“We are tourist-friendly … we appreciate tourists, but this is crazy,” she said.
During a council meeting June 15, Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said the road closures are necessary to protect residents.
“It’s a bizarre situation,” she said.
Coun. Marlene Kyle agreed.
“Folks aren’t saying they don’t want business … they just want private property respected,” Kyle said.
The additional traffic on Highway 60 can impede first responders, said Algonquin Highlands fire Chief, Mike Cavanagh.
“This will increase our response times to emergencies. The increase of travellers in the area also increases the likelihood of an emergency,” he said. “We monitor the situation annually, have some contingency plans in place and we continue to plan as our partner organizations continue to make changes to help alleviate the situation.”
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.