Editorial: A dark side of new urban tourists coming to visit

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Reports have been coming in of impromptu campsites springing up across the Island on private land, notably in Gore Bay and across the North Channel from Little Current on Goat Island—and the news is anything but complimentary when it comes to how the people camping are leaving the land.

Photos abound of the piles of garbage and trash, excrement and rotting food being left as calling cards. Is this a sign of our times? An indication of the lack of good manners and proper upbringing instilled in the modern generation? Or is it simply a lack of foresight and planning on the part of this new wave of inexperienced campers arriving on our shores with no idea where they are going to stay?

Whatever the reason for the mess, we cannot simply lay the blame on barbarians from away. It was not that long ago that Ontario’s last free campground on private land was abruptly closed due to a group of Island young adults leaving a distressing mess behind at the site—and then boasting of it.

It is a curious counterpoint to the oft-cited transcendence of all things environmental that has supposedly gripped the global consciousness. A case of not what they say, but rather watch what they do. Apparently the culprits in these sad affairs were under the impression that the properties they were squatting on were Crown land. That certainly does not in any way forgive their actions.

It is a long-standing conundrum, the Tragedy of the Commons, where commonly held public lands lack the protections that are afforded to private property and become degraded. It is often used to bolster the privatization of common resources. But in this case, that tragedy is also coming home to roost on private lands found without a local steward in place.

Manitoulin is not alone in this challenge. Many urban refugees have been flocking to rural areas across the province, with many seeking the relative safety of Ontario’s North in the face of a burgeoning pandemic. Inexperienced and careless campers have always been leaving a mess in their wake, but the numbers seem to have increased exponentially since the advent of the pandemic.

Manitoulin residents have always recognized the need to be vigilant in protecting each other’s property, with neighbours watching out for neighbours. The lack of Crown land on the Island is something of an anomaly in the province, so many of those arriving on our shores tend to assume that any forested and undeveloped parcel of land is free for the camping.

Better signage will help, but ask any farmer and they will tell you signs have only so much efficacy. Noting the presence of campers on private land and informing the landowners will help to alleviate some of the problem, as will tracking who the culprits are leaving behind the garbage.

There are many delightful people who come to visit Manitoulin’s blessed shores each year, but not all of them practice good stewardship—especially if they think the land they are setting up on belongs to everyone. Working together we can reduce our own tragedies, whether common or not.