Pinacle problems: Coaticook criticized for lax enforcement of citizens-only policy

By Gordon Lambie

Earlier this month the town of Coaticook announced the reopening of Harold F. Baldwin Park in Baldwin’s Mills on the condition that it only be visited by people from the Coaticook MRC. According to some members of the community, however, the Pinacle is being flooded with visitors from as far away as Montreal who are blatantly ignoring the residents-only restriction.
“We stop counting after six or seven hundred,” said Catherine Brown of the Halte de Pinacle general store at the base of the hill. Brown estimated that more than 5,000 visitors have passed through in recent days, the vast majority having come from out of town. “It’s a big problem.”
Brown said that the situation has gotten so bad that many of the locals have stopped coming to her store and she has started thinking about denying service to people who fail to respect the guidelines. She expressed appreciation for regular police patrols but said that they have done little to dissuade people, and was critical of the municipality for failing to take a firmer stance on the matter
“The other mountains that have opened have hired security guards,” she said, criticizing the town both for reopening the trails and for the way in which they did so. “They didn’t even consult the (park) committee.”
Asked about the decision to reopen and the concerns of the residents, Coaticook Mayor Simon Madore acknowledged the fact that people are worried but said that he is counting on people’s good faith in respecting the limitation on outside visitors.
“Under normal circumstances about half of the visitors are from outside of the MRC,” the mayor said, speculating that in this time of pandemic, that percentage should be smaller. “We are working hard on publicity to indicate that only residents should climb the mountain.”
In a press release issued on May 15, the town issued the warning that if there is a sense that restrictions are not being respected the trails will be closed once again, but Madore expressed a disinterest in actually taking that step, even as $150,000 in trail maintenance work gets underway.
“We want to have the fewest number of visitors possible,” he said, “but to maintain access for the residents of the MRC.”
The work being done is entirely focused on counteracting erosion and degradation brought about by a growing number of visitors to the mountain each year and may result in some occasional closures in the coming weeks. Madore clarified that the current project does not include any work on the project announced earlier this year to implement a pay system on the mountain.
Barbara Rowell, Chair of the Société du Parc Harold F. Baldwin, did not comment on visitors coming in from outside the community, but did stress the importance of keeping the number of visitors down during the work period.
“In terms of the erosion, the layer of soil that is on the mountain is very thin so it is easily eroded and we are down to the rock in a number of places,” she said, pointing out that this, combined with a significant increase in foot traffic over the past couple of years has had a considerable impact. “Trails are particularly delicate during the spring thaw so any traffic then has a significant negative impact. Trails need regular work and it is time for ours to get some TLC. “
That in mind, Rowell urged patience.
“We know other trails, mountains and parks in the area, including the SEPAQ parks, are opening up. However, due to all the work that is going on and the trails that will have to be closed intermittently we are asking people to give us time and space to get the work done safely and efficiently. We will welcome more people as soon as we can do so in a safe manner.”
Meanwhile the town of Coaticook’s other major outdoor attraction, the Coaticook Gorge, has been opened up to visitors regardless of whether not they come from the MRC. Asked about the reason for the different arrangement, the Mayor said that the trails in the gorge park are wider and longer, making physical distancing more manageable for visitors.

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