Lake grapples with Crown land complaints

    A sandy section of Crown land near Livingstone Lake has been the source of noisy vehicle use and firearms complaints. It was blocked off for reforestation in 2021. Photo by Sam Gillett

    ATV racing, firearm use and noisy RV camping on Crown land near Livingstone Lake is alarming residents who live close by. 

    It’s an issue that’s been going on for twenty years said Wayne Parker, whose property neighbours the lot. Lately, it’s been getting worse.

     “We’ve had as many as 22 campers in that pit – we’re talking about full RV campers that pull in,” Parker said. He and other residents report loud generators, ATVs running at all hours of the night and firearm target practice less than 200 meters from houses on the lake. 

    “That seemed really inconsistent [with the purpose of Crown land use] and disruptive to a whole lot of people.” As vice-president of the Livingstone Lake Association (LLA), Parker said he and other residents don’t want to curtail people’s enjoyment of the land. Parker said he’s an advocate for Crown land, and the public’s enjoyment of Canada’s wilderness. 

    An avid outdoors enthusiast and hunter, he’s lived full-time on Livingstone Lake since 2003. “Our primary goal has never been to police our ‘private preserve’,” Parker said. It’s “working together to advocate for responsible use.” 

    Multiple LLA members point to firearm target practice as a chief concern, since the slice of Crown land borders a cottage road, only removed by a thin line of trees. 

    Parker suspects most people who shoot at the pit, or camp there, aren’t aware of its proximity to residents. “It’s simply a pit as far as they’re concerned,” he said. 

    Parker took Algonquin Highlands Councillor Jennifer Dailloux for a tour of the area while people were racing ATVs on the land. Since first becoming aware of the issue in 2018, she says reports have increased. “There’s a true detriment to their enjoyment of the space,” she said in a fall 2021 interview, referring to residents disrupted by noise and scared of the nearby target practice. “[It’s at] the point where there are parents and grandparents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids along the lane.” 

    Just like Parker, Dailloux said she’s not against ATV use or firearm target practice on Crown land. She said it’s an issue of determining which area of Crown land is suitable for these uses. 

    MNRF fields complaints 

    The Crown land at Livingstone Lake is designated for general use. That means camping, off-road vehicles, firearm use and more is permitted. The Public Lands Act, The Game and Fish Conservation Act and the Criminal Code of Canada legislate hunting and firearm use, such as ammunition protocol and transportation rules. 

    It also prohibits other activities on Crown land, like littering. It’s difficult to gauge how many people break the rules. Even camping on Crown land, free to any Canadian or permanent resident, is limited to 21 days per year, however, compliance must be checked by site visits. 

    The Ministry of Natual Resources and Forestry (MNRF), handles Crown land complaints such as litter or natural resource damage. Officers have been called to the Livingstone Lake Pit multiple times. 

    Amanda Vincent, Parry Sound district resource management coordinator said “complaints received have been investigated and no unauthorized activities on Crown land were confirmed.” In 2021 the area was temporarily blocked off. 

    The pit was under contract with Westwind Forest Stewardship, a company that manages contracts for sand and gravel excavation. They used fill from the area for logging roads. Since the contract ended in 2021, Westwind was responsible for reforesting the area. In order to protect seedlings, they placed boulders in front of plastic fencing bordering the pit.

     Westwind Forest Stewardship confirmed it was involved in rehabilitation but declined to comment. 

    Joel Bocknek of the Haliburton ATV association put up signs discouraging use of the pit. “Our club has spent considerable time to ensure trail signage, including signage on road links between the trails, is in place and visible. 

    This assists riders in navigating the trail systems as well as helping deter riders from going where they should not be,” he said. 

    Parker said “we as an association were thrilled. That is exactly the responsible use of this piece of Crown land. To use it as a meaningful resource but not just to take from it, but to put back.” 

    Changes needed 

    While fences, stones and signs protected seedlings from destruction in the pit in 2021, Parker said restricting access to Crown land isn’t the goal. 

    The goal, he said, is long-term access and freedom to enjoy Canada’s outdoors. If complaints continue to rise, he theorizes that access could be taken away. 

    Dailloux said it’s time to consider redefining what areas of Crown land are safe to use for what purpose.

     “Ideally what we want across the province is to make sure that Crown land everywhere can be regulated in a way that ensures it doesn’t get degraded and there’s peace and tranquility and enjoyment for all,” she said. 

    Parker insisted he supports the use of Crown land and its use by Haliburton residents and tourists alike. However certain properties aren’t suitable.

     “When you see this as a property that is so close to a residential area, it comes into clear focus: this is not an appropriate place to have those completely unrestricted uses.”