flooded campsites and trails

Spring flooding at Ontario Parks

Due to this spring’s high water levels, many provincial parks experienced flooding that delayed their opening or closed their trails and campgrounds.

Our staff have been working hard to help our parks dry out and re-open for visitors. Take a look at what our teams had to contend with this spring:

Closures due to high water levels (updated June 24, 2017):

Sibbald Point Provincial Park

flooded, rutted campsites at Sibbald

Due to heavy spring rain and resulting localized flooding, Sibbald Point has had to close approximately one third of its campsites.

Ontario Parks’ staff are trying to limit the impacts to the environment while the soil is saturated; even walking in some areas was leading to soil compaction and rutting that would be difficult to repair after the campsites dry out.

All campsite reservation holders are being contacted and offered a full refund, or the option to change their reservation with no penalty.

We are working on gradually opening campsites as they dry out and we can access them without doing further damage.

Conditions are being monitored daily; check back to this post for regular updates.

Presqu’ile Provincial Park 

Presqu'ile flooded boardwalk

  • park is open for camping and day use with limitations to certain parts of the park due to heavy spring rain resulting in localized flooding
  • Visitors should use caution in these areas and stay away from closed sections:
    • High Bluff Campground: erosion and unstable shoreline
    • Day Use One: erosion and unstable shoreline
    • Light House Area: some areas flooded and shoreline erosion
    • Marsh Boardwalk: underwater and currently flooded and closed
    • Beach Area: currently flooded and closed

We are monitoring conditions daily; check back to this post for regular updates.

North Beach Provincial Park

flooded beach

  • park is open for day use
  • a portion of the beach is fenced off to protect nesting Piping Plovers (a species at risk)

Sandbanks Provincial Park

flooded trail
Dunes Trail
  • park is open for camping and day use
  • Cedar Sands and Dunes Trails are closed
  • Sandbanks Beach is closed
  • Outlet Beach and Dunes Beach are open (smaller beach area than normal due to waterline)
  • some limitation to day use parking due to high water

Fitzroy Provincial Park

  • park is open for camping and day use
  • some campsite closures in Two Rivers Campground

Bonnechere Provincial Park

flooded beach area

  • park is open for camping and day use
  • all campgrounds are now open

Algonquin Provincial Park

  • Whiskey Rapids Trail is closed

Why did so many parks flood this year?

Shorelines are dynamic spaces, and erosion is a natural and ongoing process. Over the years, water levels go through cyclical highs and lows (and, boy, was this year ever a “high”!).

One reason we saw such high water levels this year is that we had a late snow melt and lots of spring rain. The run-off caused lake and river water levels to rise quickly.

Along shorelines, waves are hitting an already-saturated ground. This causes the soil to destabilize, unable to contain the volume of water.

eroded shoreline at Presqu'ile
See how the drenched soil is being stripped off the bedrock?

It’s important to remember that our shorelines been eroding for thousands of years. Where the lake steals in one place, it gives to another. That’s how parks like Presqu’ile, Long Point, Rondeau and Slate Islands were created in the first place. It’s all part of the erosion process.

The park I want to visit *looks* mostly dry. Why can’t I visit?

Because two of our biggest concerns are:

  1. Keeping our visitors safe
  2. Protecting Ontario’s ecosystems

All that water had to go somewhere, and that “somewhere” is usually into the ground. Just because you can’t see flooding above the ground doesn’t mean there’s not still flooding underneath the ground.

Destabilized soil can cause collapses (imagine your brand new RV falling into the lake!). We don’t want people or equipment put at risk due to high water levels.

Give the soil its space!

We also want to give our parks time to bounce back. They’ve just absorbed a HUGE amount of water.

In order to accommodate plant roots and subterranean species, soil needs to have tiny interstitial spaces between its grains.

Human activities, like walking and driving, compact the soil. Once the ground’s compacted, regrowth is much more difficult.

The ground needs time to dry out so it can support our weight again.

Are these floods a disaster for plants and wildlife living in parks?

Generally, no. Remember: occasional high water levels and shoreline erosion are part of a natural process.

For humans, flooding is a natural disaster.

In the natural world, flooding is a natural disturbance. Yes, some species will be negatively impacted, but this kind of disturbance helps others, including marram grass, water fowl and frogs, to thrive.

Sandbanks panne
The pannes (G20 ecosystems) at Presqu’ile and Sandbanks are loving the extra water.

Those detritus-covered beaches look messy from a human perspective, but all the newly deposited trees and shrubs will now be buried in the sand, providing extra nutrients. Detritus also provides cover and habitat for beach species like American toads.

flooded beach at Sandbanks 2017
Sandbanks’ day use beach sure looks different this spring!

That said, the flooding has been tough on our Piping Plovers. This species-at-risk needs dry beach to lay its eggs, and, this year, those beaches were underwater during nesting season at parks like Darlington and Presqu’ile.

MacGregor Point - Piping Plovers

Because this species is so endangered, the loss of even one bird can take a toll on the global population.

What are park staff doing? Can I help?

Staff still working in affected parks are protecting infrastructure like park offices and comfort stations, monitoring trees (inundated ground can destabilize tree roots), ensuring water and electrical systems aren’t impacted, and keeping visitors away from the extremely fragile natural spaces.

Bonnechere staff in hipwaders

Some parks may have volunteer events, but the best thing you can do for our parks is give them time to recover.

What can we learn from this year’s flooding?

If it reinforces one thing for us, it’s the importance of maintaining healthy, sustainable ecosystems. When an ecosystem has ecological integrity, there’s a certain elasticity that allows species (including humans) to bounce back easily.

But in cases where we’ve lost ecological integrity (for instance, species at risk), a natural disturbance can become a big problem.

We need to keep working together to protect provincial parks all year round.