L’Orignal Beach reopened to Champlain Township residents last weekend, and while outside visitors are upset the beach is not open to everyone, it won’t be long before that situation changes.

After opening in 2020, L’Orignal Beach was flooded with visitors, which forced the township to restrict access to Champlain residents only. Having learned from that experience, staff at the township are taking a more cautious approach in 2021, opening the beach on June 11 to Champlain residents only.

“We’re a small municipality, it’s a small beach – we’ve never lived with a busy time of year like we did last year,” said Lisa Burroughs, Director of Parks and Recreation for the Township of Champlain. “If we weren’t in a pandemic, of course we would be more than happy to greet visitors.”

The township has received complaints on its Facebook page from people who live outside of the municipality’s borders. Many have voiced opinions that the beach was underused in 2020 after the restrictions were put in place.

“There’s no middle ground – no matter how you cut it one side won’t be happy,” Burroughs observed, noting that Champlain’s first obligation is to its taxpayers. “Residents won’t be happy if you have it open to everybody and they don’t feel safe enough to go to their own local beach.”

Staff at the township have heard the voices, but know full well that if the site was opened to visitors from outside Champlain too soon, it would be almost impossible to manage.

“We don’t have the staff to address 1,000 people a day,” Burroughs said, adding she expects the beach to be open to everyone by July 5, as the township moves to open facilities in line with Ontario’s reopening stages. “It’s a temporary measure and when we reach Stage 2, with the expansion of outdoor activities and when we resume indoor services – when the province allows all of that – the beach parameters will (change).”

Staff from the township’s recreation department have been consulting with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) throughout the pandemic. All of the reopening strategies are based on the advice and guidance being provided by the EOHU.

If L’Orignal Beach was always busy, the township would look at new strategies to add more staff and facilities, Burroughs said. However there is a risk to making long-term plans based on what is very likely a pandemic bubble.

“Maybe we start charging, so that money could go to having a lifeguard, having more staff, more amenities, but we’ve never lived such a busy season before and I think it’s all COVID related,” Burroughs explained. “There’s no reason to want to invest in anything right now and put someone at the gate and then there’s only 20 people.”

The parking lot at the L’Orignal Beach can hold 80 vehicles, and in normal years – other than for special events – it has never reached half of that capacity. In the summer of 2020 – the weekend before Champlain Township closed the site to outside visitors – the parking lot was overflowing, with vehicles parked all the way up the entrance lane and along Front Road.

There were multiple problems in 2020, when the beach was open to everyone and the site was crowded with people. Issues with visitors ignoring social distancing rules, sanitary measures and even vandalism had staff at L’Orignal Beach overwhelmed.

“We can’t just open the floodgates and have everybody there, because we’ve lived it last year,” Burroughs said, adding she expects many of those issues to be resolved as more people are vaccinated and public spaces open up. “When more amenities open, people will have more options of things to do, so I don’t think they’ll all be congregating at L’Orignal Beach.”

Anyone who would like to stay up to date on the activities at L’Orignal Beach can visit Champlain Township’s webpage.

L’Orignal Beach still had a steady stream of visitors over the weekend. Photo by Reid Masson