Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Canadian Press
Posted Friday, July 24, 2020 5:49 a.m. EDT
MONTREAL – Quebec’s annual two-week construction holiday is in full swing, and with many Quebecers staying closer to home this summer due to COVID-19, towns in the Gaspé region are seeing an influx of tourists lured by the charming seaside landscapes.
But the mayor of Gaspé, Que., a popular tourist destination on the east coast of the Gaspé Peninsula, fears some visitors are camping wherever they find space, harming the environment and inconveniencing locals.
“We see a lot of tents on public beaches, in forests, on private land without the approval of the owners of that land,” Mayor Daniel Côté said in an interview Thursday.
Côté said he has high hopes that tourists will come to the Gaspé this summer despite the pandemic. Authorities had closed the region to foreigners earlier this year to stop the spread of COVID-19.
But Cote said he was taken aback by the number of tourists arriving without hotel or campsite reservations. “People flooded into public beaches and decided that was where they would set up camp,” he said.
A series of photos posted to Facebook on Wednesday showed tents and camping chairs lined up along a beach, along with empty beer cans and other trash strewn across the sand. The Canadian Press could not independently verify the photos, which were reportedly taken at Haldimand Beach in Gaspé.
The post was shared nearly 600 times Thursday afternoon and garnered more than 300 comments, many of which criticized tourists and called on the city to take action. Côté said public beaches are under provincial authority, so the municipality has limited means to intervene.
But he said Gaspé intended to hire people to patrol busy public areas and inform visitors of the rules, which include bans on driving vehicles on public beaches and disposing of litter in completely safe.
The city is also working with the Quebec Provincial Police and the neighboring Mi’kmaq Nation of Gespeg to protect the area, Cote added. “As a municipality, we don’t have coercive power to force people out of areas…so we’ll go ahead with awareness raising.”
In a statement released Thursday, officials from the Mi’kmaq Nation of Gespeg said unregulated camping in the area had gotten “out of control” and was negatively affecting local wildlife and ecosystems.
“On the beaches, stranded wood, which is important for slowing down erosion, is burned without knowing what the consequences are,” the statement said. “Migratory birds are disturbed at their nesting sites. We can’t even keep track of the amount of litter littering the waters, beaches, parking lots and rest areas.”
The regional public health authority launched an awareness campaign this month to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 in Gaspésie amid the wave of tourists.
Small teams are deployed throughout the region to ensure that people follow public health guidelines, explained Clémence Beaulieu-Gendron, spokesperson for the CISSS de la Gaspésie. She said several local mayors have asked public health teams to come to their towns.
So far, a team of four outreach workers has been working in the Sainte-Anne-des-Monts area, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, while others have been sent to Gaspé, Percé and Carleton- on sea. .
“They’re not police. It’s important to say that,” Beaulieu-Gendron said of the workers in an interview. “It’s really raising awareness to avoid a second wave, or in any case, to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in the region during the summer holidays.”
Lily Gang, owner of Motel-Camping Fort Ramsay in Gaspé, said this summer looks just as busy as previous years. His business has 32 motel rooms and 42 campgrounds, which normally accommodate both trailers and tents.
But Gang said she chose not to take reservations for tent camping this year because she felt uncomfortable with guests using communal toilets and showers during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she was also worried that campers would put her cleaning staff at risk.
“I don’t know how to handle so many people together,” Gang said in an interview.
Côté said the area typically receives 800,000 visitors each summer, but this year he expects more. He said he intended to speak to the provincial government this fall to ensure public beaches are not overrun again next year.
In the meantime, he encouraged tourists to plan their trips to the region in advance – and only visit if they have reservations. “It will be our great pleasure to welcome you, provided that you behave with respect towards the people of the region.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 24, 2020.