Landowners continue to oppose Clear Lake proposal


Challenging times for MNR and council

Minden – Tinkering with shorelines in the Haliburton Highlands is dicey business, and no discussion better defines just how delicate an issue lake frontage planning has become than the current public battle regarding Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) Clear Lake Conservation Reserve (CR) proposals.

Approximately 30 visitors greetedHaliburtonCountycouncilors and MNR spokesman Craig Dodds at the regular meeting of council last week (March 28).

The land in question is located on the northern reaches of Algonquin Highlands and the MNR is looking to bulwark environmental strictures in Clear Lake CR, which is a popular nature destination for cross country skiers, hikers, snowmobilers, boaters and fishermen.

Back on Feb 9 the MNR announced – in a preliminary management statement – that they were planning to expand the 1,300 hectare Clear Lake Conservation Reserve (CR) and increase restrictions. Those recommendations included prohibiting use of logging trails for motorized recreational use (snowmobiles and ATVs), prohibiting the caching of boats and canoes, and the abolition of trail grooming on existing cross-country and snowshoe trails. MNR called for an open house on Feb 16 and it was sparsely attended – cottagers and residents say that it was due to insufficient notice.

A subsequent open house on March 10 drew 140 people and 112 signatures on a petition addressed to MPP Laurie Scott and Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle.

No MNR representatives attended that March 10 meeting, but the meeting and petition prompted substantive action from the ministry.

The MNR proposals came under fire again at last week’s council meeting. Cottagers and local trail groups are now demanding that the ministry address their concerns over proposed new shoreline and road allowance allocations, boat caching, and limitation and eradication of public trails.

Dodds says that the MNR is staking out these changes in the interest of “biodiversity” management.

Some people who have cottages in the preserve and others who utilize the venue for various forms of recreation are concerned that while the objective is sound, the recommendations are draconian.

Robert Lee and Jim Redner of the Friends of the Clear Lake Cottagers’ Association were particularly vocal about how the closure of trails, threats to limit boat caching and the removal of road allowances are going to affect their access to the park.

Lee said the trail – Clear Lake Portage – to his family’s cottage, which he travels to by ATV, acts as his access road. Lee asked Dodds how he was expected to get from the car to his cottage if the province limits ATV access on portages, shoreline road allowances and some trails.

Lee also said that caching of boats [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the practice of leaving canoes stored upside down on shorelines] has been ongoing for years, and he allowed that carting boats in every time they visited their cottages was patently silly.

He also said that cached boats reduced significantly the risk of bringing in invasive species of fish, acknowledging that transfer of unwanted marine species is largely the result of visitors who cart their boats in for day trips and excursions.

Dodds did tell council that there might be room to reconsider some of the recommendations.

“We’re looking at a system that will allow boat caches,” Dodds said. He added that the MNR was willing, because this debate has escalated on a broad scale, to extend consultation on the proposals for the CR. “We’ll be accepting comments till April 25,” said Dodds. “We must review and consider all comments received.”

He added that their major consideration is “managing biodiversity” and to ensure that certain species of wildlife and fauna in the CR are “protected forever.”

Other suggestions in the MNR plan include a ban on any future hydro line construction and the elimination of motorized winter trail grooming.

Dodds stressed that there was no plan to eliminate all snowmobiling, but the plan calls for motorized access to lakes and certain approved trails only.

The vast majority of the CR is in the Algonquin Highlands and its Deputy Reeve Liz Danielson was particularly concerned about what the new designations imply for ratepayers.

She said that Algonquin Highlands – Reeve Carole Moffatt was not at the meeting – is “looking for some clarity with regards to the trails” including access agreements and what lands will be reverting to the crown.

Danielson said the issue of shoreline road allowances in front of the cottages is an important talking point, because those allocations will have an impact on ratepayers in the township, especially those who are on the lake. She maintained that under current agreements those shoreline roads are property of the township.

Lee speaking as a property owner and a member of the Friends of Clear Lake said that these recommendations fly in the face of original land promises. “As a property owner onClearLakewe were assured that the existing uses would not be changed,” said Lee, who was polite but clearly upset. “In 1997 I used a 4-wheeler on the portage and  I am speaking for a majority of the property owners – and I polled the owners before I came here – who agree that the portage from Big Hawk to Clear Lake is our access… the portage is the our access.”

He told council that under terms of use proposed by MNR, that access would be cut off and they would be subject to fines if they drove their ATVs down that portage to their cottages. Why are they taking shore allowance away now? Now if I get caught on that trail I’ll be fined.

“I have used that trail for 35 years. The Clear Lake Portage is not a nature walk. We clean up the garbage every year and we treatClearLakewith respect.

“We have had rights for 30 years and we want to keepClearLakeas pristine as it is.

“There are 12 property owners on it. And our biggest concern is why the township is giving up shoreline allowances.”

Danielson said that clearly there has to be some clarification provided by MNR to Algonquin Highlands Council regarding those allowances and other significant points pertaining to access and freedom.

Warden Murray Fearrey urged Dodds to take the feedback back to his superiors and consider all of the recommendations made by petitioners.