MUSKOKA - Marking a portage route on Bala Falls Road is a bad idea, according to some District of Muskoka councillors.
I don’t understand the logistics and rationale for it, and I think it’s almost foolhardy. I won’t be supporting the resolution – District Chair John Klinck
The district’s engineering and public works committee at its Oct. 3 meeting discussed a proposal submitted by the Township of Muskoka Lakes to install a sign near the falls to direct canoeists, kayakers and other paddlers toward a portage route.
A portage allows paddlers to pull their boat out of the water and carry it around a precarious section of a river before launching it again.
But Bracebridge Coun. Scott Young warned his fellow committee members against installing such a sign.
“I’ve carried canoes across roads before and you can’t see a damn thing. You’re pretty much relying on your ears and people around you to shout if you’re about to be taken out,” said the councillor, who is an avid paddler.
“I’m 100 per cent in favour of leaving portages open and making them work, but what we’re talking about is not just putting up a sign, but formalizing a crosswalk in which people have a large boat on their head.”
While district staff emphasized the portage route across Ball Falls Road would not be marked as a formal crosswalk, Young argued the sign would encourage people to make their way across the road to reach the portage entrance despite not being able to see traffic coming toward them.
Young also questioned whether the sign would direct paddlers through a construction zone next summer if work should begin on the Bala Falls hydro project.
District Chair John Klinck seemed to support Young’s comments.
“In 16 years here at the district I don’t recall a time where, if a municipality came to the district and suggested they wanted to do something, I haven’t agreed. But I have to draw the line here,” said Klinck.
“I don’t want to be part of a canoe-on-the-head sign,” he told the committee.
He said he respects requests that come from the area municipalities, but this one goes too far.
“I don’t understand the logistics and rationale for it, and I think it’s almost foolhardy. I won’t be supporting the resolution,” said Klinck.
Staff noted a portage sign that looked like a classic black-on-yellow road sign had stood in the location previously, but some unknown person had removed it.
Muskoka Lakes Coun. Phil Harding supported the request for a replacement sign.
“The impetus for this is the fact that we’re erecting signs around the area from a safety perspective,” said Harding. “It is a very popular canoe route where all of our camp kids are crossing the highway. We’d just like to alert vehicular traffic from a safety perspective that this is a canoe route and to be aware.”
He noted that the sign directing paddlers to the portage access also prevented them from wandering up and down Bala Falls Road with canoes hoisted over their heads, looking for the entrance.
Harding added no construction permits or applications had been submitted to the township regarding the hydro project and therefore no work is scheduled to begin, though there is much speculation in the community. Paddlers, therefore, would not be in danger of crossing into a construction zone.
With a mind toward warning motorists about the crossing, Huntsville Coun. Brian Thompson suggested two signs be installed to warn oncoming traffic in either direction of the crossing area.
The majority of committee members and staff seemed to readily accept the idea of installing warning signs for motorists and agreed to forward the suggestion to Muskoka Lakes council for feedback.
Young added in the end that he did not want to see any paddlers hit by vehicles and if a sign were to be installed it should be geared toward warning drivers well before they reach the crossing.
He felt a smaller sign more typical of portage route markers found in Algonquin Park may be more appropriate to notify paddlers.
“You could probably talk to the people at Algonquin Park about what signs they use and what safety measures they put in place. People (in the park) are walking across Highway 60, which makes (Bala Falls Road) look like a picnic,” said Young.
“Clearly there are other agencies who have thought these issues through. Maybe we could learn from that and figure out what safety measures should be put in place to ensure these visually challenged people are safe when they take their canoes across the road.”
The township’s request for a portage marker narrowly passed at the committee table with a vote of 3-2. Young and Klinck opposed the request.
The committee’s decision has been forwarded to district council for consideration.