New park fees not sitting well with Manitoba beach goers

Manitobans are taking advantage of summer and visiting the many beaches in the province, but in the RM of St. Laurent, the rules have changed for visitors who want to access Sandpiper Beach in Big Tree Park.

Ashley Corvino has been coming to the beach with her family for 20 years. This year, she found out her visit wasn't going to be free.

"If I wanted a year pass, it was going to be $100 in order for us to come down here," said Corvino. "Between all of us, that would be $500 for the summer."

In June, the RM of St. Laurent passed the Parks and Beaches Bylaw.

Under the new rules, anyone who does not own property in the municipality will need to purchase an RM of St. Laurent park pass to access Sandpiper Beach in Big Tree Park.

Corvino's family owns a cabin on the beach, but because she's not from the municipality, she has to pay to visit.

"It didn't seem right to us when we've been coming here for 20 years, and my in-laws have owned their cabin for over 20."

All property owners in the RM of St. Laurent have free access to the park, but fees aren't the only issue.

Dave Wills owns a cabin on the beach. He said under the new bylaw, he can no longer walk outside of his backdoor to access the beach. Instead, he'll have to make his way to the Big Tree Park entrance.

"You have to go through the park to get to the beach? That's ridiculous," said Wills. "Then the park hours, seven o'clock at night it closes down, well lots of people like to watch the sunset, beautiful sunsets out here, where does that all go?"

Wills doesn't want the new rules to change the culture of the beach.

Reeve for the RM of St. Laurent, Cheryl Smith, said the community has seen an uptick in tourism in recent years, and the fees will be used to build up infrastructure in the park to keep up with the high volume of people.

"We don't want to put that cost onto the taxpayers. We want to collect the fees from the non-taxpayers. We want to collect the fees from the people visiting," said Smith.

Smith said two new handicap bathroom facilities were added to the park this year, and there are plans to add a play structure in the future.

She said the bylaw is a pilot project, and the RM is looking for feedback from the community to see how the new rules can be improved.

Corvino doesn't believe the community was given an opportunity to voice their concerns about the new rules, and she'd like to see some changes made to the bylaw.

"The kids love it here, and now I have to load them up every time and take them all the way across the beach," Corvino said.