Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pinery Provincial Park - Outdoor Fitness Hotspot

For the Labour Day long weekend, I made my return to Pinery Provincial Park for the first time in 22 years, give or take. The park, located a short drive southwest of Grand Bend, Ontario, is one of the province's busiest.

Despite my usual complaints about crowds, inadequate washroom facilities, high fees, too-small dog beach, crowds, oh - did I mention crowds... I enjoyed the park for what it is, a recreation area. Ontario Parks may have a different idea about that, considering it a Natural Environment class park.

The park has 10 'Interpretive Walking Trails' ranging from 0.8km up to 3.0km. These are well-groomed trails with no serious technical terrain. These are perfect for those living the shareware, bubble-wrapped version of Life 1.0 but not much of a challenge for any serious athlete. Yes, that was a little harsh, but I don't mean it in a condescending way - really. Click here to view the park's trail map.

However, most of the trails are connected via a 14 km biking trail that loops around the park. Still not overly technical, the bike path does provide endless possibilities as far as distances are concerned. Add to that the beach that runs on seemingly forever and a municipal trail that runs along highway 21 from the park gates 8.5km to the town of Grand Bend, and you can put in some serious running while enjoying the great outdoors.

Possibilities for water sports are endless at the Pinery. Canoeing and kayaking can be done on the river or on Lake Huron. Swimming is great in Lake Huron and the water is clear enough for snorkeling, however, there probably won't be much to see other than sand, old band-aids and the odd rock.

I should say something about my earlier complaints. If you're like me and don't much like crowded trails or crowded anything for that matter, do not go to the Pinery on a long weekend in the summer! The park becomes one giant mass of humanity. Trails are crowded, beaches are crowded, roads are busier than a city street with drivers travelling at well over the speed limit and kicking up dust.

As for the washroom facilities, they would be fine if the park was running at about 30% capacity. There are 100 sites per section and you'd have to figure an average of 3 people per site. That's 300 people sharing 6 toilets (3 men's and 3 women's). If you have a site within a few hundred feet of the washrooms, you will smell it and it won't be nice.

There are 9 parking areas/beaches. One of them, #9, is the only one where dogs are allowed. Parking for this beach was overflowing by noon on any given day. The other 8 beaches had ample free parking and were not nearly as crowded. It looks like there are a lot of people camping with man's best friend these days and the park needs to allot more space to accommodate.

And lastly, the fees... Close to $37 per night is now the going rate for a basic site with no electricity or water. That is getting up there with the price of a cheap motel room. At least put in some extra bathrooms to justify the cost!

As far as being environmentally conscious, the park has a good idea in promoting their 'park once' program. They encourage people to park their vehicle when they set up camp and not move it until it's time to go home. Great program. Large park. They could probably throw in a shuttle or two for trips to the beach, etc. Also, I think making sections where you park in a large lot and have to hike in your equipment would be a cool idea. This would certainly encourage guests to avoid their vehicles as it would be a hike just to get back to them. It would be so nice to not have cars constantly whipping by your site, kicking up a perpetual cloud of dust on all your belongings.

Would I go back? Yes, but as I couldn't state any clearer, not on a long weekend.

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