Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks has proposed a three-year lease extension for cottagers with properties in Rondeau Provincial Park. Located on a spit jutting out into Lake Erie in the municipality of Chatham-Kent, Rondeau, established in 1894, is the second oldest provincial park in Ontario. It’s considered one of the province’s ecological jewels, acting as a refuge for more than 80 at-risk species and 300 significant plant species.
Despite Rondeau’s designation as a provincial park, approximately one per cent of the area is occupied by lots leased to long-term cottagers. “We own the cottages but lease the land,” says David Colby, president of the Rondeau Cottagers Association.
In 1986, the Ontario Provincial Parks Council approved a policy where leaseholders were given the opportunity to extend their leases to December 31, 2017 through a lease-amending agreement. After that date, provincial park private cottages would be phased out with the provincial government stating that “cottages available for sale would be purchased by the ministry on a priority basis, subject to availability of funds.”
The leases in Rondeau, however, were renewed again in 2017 and so have yet to be eliminated. The government’s proposed extension for a further three years is a temporary solution while it searches for alternatives to Rondeau’s long-term occupation of cottage lots. One of the proposed solutions actually includes extending the leases indefinitely.
Ontario Nature, an environmental conservation organization, is advocating for the government to end the Rondeau leases, claiming that cottagers occupying the park threaten the area’s endangered wildlife and fragile ecosystems through road mortality, mowing, vegetation removal, foot paths, and the introduction of invasive species.
Colby, however, argues that the Rondeau cottagers are excellent stewards of the park, caring deeply about its biodiversity. He adds that using the land for the purpose of cottaging was written into the original charter. “Cottages have been there for well over 100 years. They’re really part of the fabric of Rondeau. They’re not something I think should ever be considered apart from that.”
As part of their lease agreement, Rondeau cottagers have to pay park entrance fees, service fees, and, in lieu of tax payments, additional fees that are equal to the amount of municipal taxation. These fees go towards maintaining the park and protecting its biodiversity.
The three-year lease extension has yet to be formalized and is open to a commentary period until December 18. After that, the government will have to decide whether or not to extend the leases. The current leases only extend to December 31, 2019. “Something’s got to be done before the end of the year or we’re illegal,” Colby says.
While the cottagers’ impact on the park’s biodiversity is questioned, Colby says they are garnering support for their case to stay from their MPPs and local community. “We’re concentrating on being really good citizens with regards to ecology and respect to the land and the creatures we share the land with.”
The government is accepting comments until midnight on Dec. 18, 2019.