CAPE RAY, NL – Three hundred residents of the local service district (LSD) of Cape Ray are opposed to having a gate erected at the entrance to J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, located on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) not far from Port aux Basques.
According to residents, the proposed gate would generate problems on several fronts.
An access road called Park Road in Cape Ray is the community’s only secondary exit should the LSD ever need to activate its emergency evacuation plan. The unpaved Park Road enters the provincial park directly from the community, and was used by the Department of Transportation and Works in the past when an oil spill on the TCH diverted highway traffic.
“The road was there before I was born,” said 85-year-old Ross Patey, who owns a cabin on land adjacent to the park – land where he was born and his family used to live year-round.
“One of me brothers was 10 years old, was walking out there, when they put the highway through.”
The main road running through the park, the Park Road access route, the land on which Patey’s cabin sits, and the land belonging to other nearby cabin owners all pre-date the provincial park and even Confederation.
The railroad originally bought some land from families in the area to punch through for the trains – that land is now also a provincial park as part of the Newfoundland T’Railways.
“There was a sign there called Osmond’s Crossing where the trains used to stop, pick up stuff, drop people off,” remembers Patey.
Instead of detouring unnecessarily onto the TCH, during the summer cabin owners tend to enter Cheeseman’s via Park Road and turn onto the T’Railway just before the beach to get to their cabins or visit the cemetery.
In the winter, that’s impossible, and even before the snows come it’s pretty rough going.
Cape Ray’s LSD has tried to fix Park Road, but was prevented from grading once they reached the park boundary.
“This past summer we, as a local service district, were going to fix the access road (to accommodate cabin owners),” said Anne Osmond, a LSD board member who has been in contact with park officials.
“They said no. It’s denied. We had to stop our construction.”
The LSD was also prohibited from trimming shrubs and rough brush overgrowing the road, even though the park itself is clearing the same overgrowth along the primary road.
“Everything we’ve tried to do in the past, there’s been barriers put up,” said a frustrated Osmond. “The last time the road was done was 2007.”
Should the park erect a gate at the TCH entrance and with the Park Road impassible, access to cabins on the far side of the park would be cut off.
That poses another problem.
Some residents, like 94-year-old Ida Gibb of Toronto, aren’t just here for tourist season but stay long after the snows come, typically over the holidays and even into the New Year.
Without road access an emergency vehicle would not be able to reach her should an emergency arise.
“I don’t know what problem they’re trying to solve,” said her son, David, regarding the proposed gate. He believes the roads and land are in good hands, and the park needn’t worry about the potential for vandalism.
“It’s just such a wonderful group. Everyone works together to take care of the place. Now to hear that we may be barred and restricted from getting to our homes – it’s just remarkably upsetting.”
Residents have turned to MHA Andrew Parsons for help, and he has been lobbying the Department of Tourism, Industry, Innovation and Culture on their behalf.
“I only became aware of this issue a couple of weeks ago,” said Parsons via phone interview. “I understand the gate is or has been installed, but my understanding is that it will not be closed.
“It is apparently the only ungated park in the province.”
Parsons is still waiting for a reason why the department felt it necessary to install a gate at J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park.
“There (must) have been a reason and I haven’t had that explained to me yet,” he said. “The main thing people need to know is that the gate is not going to be closed any time soon, so access is not going to be restricted in any way.”
Eric Humber, media relations manager for the Department of Tourism, Industry, Innovation and Culture, replied to inquiries from the Gulf News via email.
“Consistent with other provincial parks, a gate at the entry of JT Cheeseman Provincial Park is being installed, however the gate will remain open,” Humber wrote.
He also confirmed the department will work with Cape Ray residents to review their emergency evacuation plan and ensure access to emergency services is not compromised.
Even if the gate is never closed, there are still areas of contention between the park and cabin owners, and even small business owners serving the area.
People come to visit family laid to rest in a cemetery near Osmond’s Point, which dates back to the 1800s, again outside of park boundaries next to the cabin area. They come year-round, regardless of weather, to put flowers on the graves of beloved parents and grandparents.
“We gotta get a permit to go to the cemetery to see our loved ones,” said Gary White.
The fact that the permit is free is irrelevant to him.
“To me it’s crazy what they want us to do. My mother, my father, my grandmother is all there.”
Parsons agrees, although he does allow it was probably a situation that hadn’t been considered before.
“You shouldn’t be needing a permit to visit a cemetery.”
White said residents have used the railway bed for the past 100 years, ever since the track was laid down.
“You can go on bike (ATV) but you can’t go on vehicle,” said White.
His mother was born and raised there but he can no longer visit his mother’s home or grave without a permit. And he wonders whether people without longstanding ties to the area can even get a permit to visit friends who stay in the area.
Then there’s the business side of things.
White works for Notre Dame Castle. To deliver building supplies or other large materials to cabin owners, he needs a permit to access the T’Railway.
That permit isn’t free. White applied for a two-month period, through to the end of 2017.
“In two months I might make one trip. I might make none,” said White. “There’s the fee – $1,172.50.”
Eric Humber stated the permits are necessary for safety and to prevent property damage.
“As safety is an upmost priority, permits issued for regular motorized vehicles in T’Railway Provincial Park instruct applicants that bridges, trestles and culverts may not be safe for vehicles weighing more than ATVs and snowmobiles,” wrote Humber.
“Budget 2016 introduced a permit fee for commercial operators wishing to use T’Railway Provincial Park as an access road.”
Humber also stated that permits will allow the department to hold applicants responsible for damages to the T’Railway caused by driving heavy equipment on it, necessitated because of significant damage caused by illegal usage in the past.
Not financially sound
To continue delivering to the area in 2018, White would have to pay for a six-month permit. Because of the high fees it’s not financially sound, which would make getting heavy supplies to the area even more problematic for cabin owners.
White says he wonders if the park isn’t deliberately playing hardball.
He thinks the park simply doesn’t want to deal with hassle of residents anymore, and is perhaps hoping to make another effort to establish an ecological reserve in the area.
“I’m wondering are they trying, in their power, to starve out the people that’s there? Cut off their resources as much as they can so they can try to drive the people out of there?”
White says he has been dealing with access issues for well over a decade, back before he sold his cabin to Ida Gibb. White thinks his years of complaints have largely fallen on deaf ears, and while he may have sold his cabin, others are still coming into the area.
“We see more people down here in the summer time than we do when we’re home,” said Elizabeth Lomond, another Cape Ray resident with strong ties to the area.
She now keeps a trailer near her sister’s cabin, and thinks if it’s nice enough she and her family might even spend a few days in the area over the Christmas holidays.
“It’s beautiful down here.”
On that point, at least, everyone seems to agree.