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Canada Ontario parks still soggy as lake flooding stymies summer beach plans

A photo from the Facebook group Friends of Sandbanks shows high water levels at Sandbanks Provincial Park on Lake Ontario.

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When Chris Currah looks across the parking lot of his restaurant and shop at Sandbanks Provincial Park, he sees two large shipping containers that sit on or near the lot. The white and blue bins have been trucked in to help the business owner store the products he can no longer keep in the basement because high water from Lake Ontario is flooding in.

The basement of Currah's Park Store and Grill has five centimetres of water that he calls a "disaster." His staff now need to walk across the parking lot to retrieve boogie boards, water wings and take-out containers. Some of the kitchen supplies are being kept in a corner of the dining room, while black plastic, corrugated tubing runs along the upstairs to help pump the water out.

"The ground water has nowhere to go because we are essentially as low as the water table right now," Mr. Currah said.

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The current water level on Lake Ontario is 75.75 metres above sea level, down from a peak of 75.88 metres reached on May 29, according to water resources engineer Jacob Bruxer, who works with the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Regulation Office and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"It is still above the previous record high for this time of year, this time of July back in 1952. It's still quite high but on its way down very gradually," Mr. Bruxer said.

Sandbanks is one of at least three provincial parks that border Lake Ontario and continue to deal with the effects of flooding from still-high water levels, making for a soggy summer trip for some families as park and beach season kicks into high gear.

Presqu'ile Provincial Park near Brighton as well as Darlington Provincial Park near Oshawa are also coping with excess water. According to Greg Walsh, who manages several parks in southeastern Ontario, at Presqu'ile, 13 of 397 campsites remain closed, the entire beach is underwater and the main entrance and boardwalk are submerged. Staff at Presqu'ile have been forced from their office because of flooding and are having to use a temporary trailer to conduct park business.

"In my 15 years working in the parks, I have not seen Lake Ontario this high," said Mr. Walsh, who acts as the southeast zone park manager under Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. He said 50 of the 315 campsites at Darlington Provincial Park remain closed.

Sandbanks beach is closed. The other two beaches at the park, Dunes and Outlet, have remained open despite the high water, but lake levels mean that many of the sandy areas are still submerged.

"It has deterred a lot of people but the interesting thing is that people who have not been here before really don't notice anything different because they had not seen it when the beach was 140 feet wide; now it is only 15, but they still think it is beautiful," said Mr. Currah, who has owned the Store and Grill for 10 years.

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In addition to the reduced beach size and lake water flooding the basement of Currah's Park Store and Grill, roads are barred for safety, parking lots are more like ponds and several trails are closed. Of the park's 625 campsites, 50 are closed.

Currah's manager, Kathy Symington-Walsh, says her staff are making the best of the alterations to business.

"It's more stressful on our staff because they have to leave the building to go find product," she said.

"[Some customers] are curious about why some of the beach isn't there and then we explain to them about the flooding and the high rain that we've had this year and that it is something that we've never seen."

Aerial photos of Sandbanks Provincial Park, posted to the Facebook group Friends of Sandbanks, show large pools of high lake and rain water that formed for weeks over vast regions of the park's beaches.

Jamie Forrester, owner of Log Cabin Point Cottage Resort, says he has spent about $9,000 to clean up and battle the effects of flooding. Mr. Forrester, whose eight-cottage, 25-campsite park is across the road from Sandbanks's beaches, had to bring in 2,000 sandbags since the spring, as well as loads of gravel to raise and stabilize sections of his camp's grounds.

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"It has caused a lot of erosion problems, like my park is very, very wet," he said. "I probably need that water to come down another six inches for things to get back to normal."

Mr. Forrester says he's hearing some other stores and rental businesses in the area are down in sales by as much as 40 per cent because of the slow start to the season. Although he's still happy with the number of bookings he has, he's having to tell customers about the situation, saying some of his sites "won't be dry until mid-August."

A better idea of the amount of damage caused and the cost associated with cleanup at provincial parks will be made at the end of the season. Mr. Walsh of the Ministry of Natural Resources says it's too early to know a dollar figure on the amount of revenue lost because of affected bookings, or how much damage has been caused to provincial parkland. He also said it was too early to know what compensation would be available to affected businesses, though he says full refunds are being offered to people whose reservations were cancelled due to the conditions. Updates can be found at ontarioparks.com.

Raw footage of the flooded picnic area and grass fields on Toronto's Olympic Island
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