Beach enhancement special report: Community Foundation

Chair David Bannister
As told to Casey Lessard

I am very much in favour of enhancing the beach. I know people have certain reservations about parts of the plan, but I think overall the plan is a good beginning.
The main beach is very important to the community. It’s part of the persona of Grand Bend. I’m down there every day, often taking pictures. I go by it quite often on the sailboat. It is a beautiful beach. It’s not surprising that people get charged up about making changes or enhancements.
I almost wish they had called it the Grand Bend beach parking lot improvement project, because that’s largely what it is. I think people are getting tied up in making changes to the beach when, in my opinion, it will only beautify the area. I know a lot of people would rather start with the downtown, and there’s certainly merit to that. It needs work.
If you go down and look at the beach at this time of year, they have to put snow fencing up to prevent sand getting up the main street. Efforts to support the dunes by planting dune grass that will survive the winter – admittedly that’s a tall order – would keep the beach from trying to migrate east every winter. Maybe it would prevent them from having to put up that snow fence all winter, which I don’t think is all that attractive.
Landscaping and brickwork to make that turnaround area a more attractive welcome to the beach is very positive. Planting trees there for shade is very important as we get into more UV problems with people getting too much sun. The shade would be good for vehicles and for the people who are down on the beach area.
I know one of the most controversial things is the children’s play area and the water play area, and the municipality has to take the public’s input on that and consider, Is it in the right location and is it the right facility?
I personally believe it’s important to have something like that for children. There’s been a lot of talk about whether it’s safe. At this point, we have lifeguards on the beach and children are playing near the main water area under their parents’ supervision. This would get them away from the potentially rough water, because it is dangerous when the flags are up and it’s posted as a rough water day.
You often will hear it said that after the Labour Day weekend, the village gets to take back its community. Grand Bend has always attracted a huge number of young people, and the beach is a big part of that. It’s always going to be difficult to balance the needs of families interested in using the beach against those of young people who are coming to have a good time. The two really are not compatible. The beach enhancements will change the demographic.
Grand Bend is a huge and growing tax base for the municipality of Lambton Shores. You’ll find the same number of entries in the phone book in Grand Bend as you do for Exeter. If you look at the facilities the village has to offer, it has a hugely different level of services. It’s about time the level of the beach area and downtown continued to improve with the neighbourhoods in the area.
The municipality is quite upfront about the fact that it makes significant revenues from that parking lot, and in my mind, that could go a long way toward maintaining that facility. It’s laudable that the municipality wants to keep that money in and around the beach area where they’re making it.
There’s no question the municipality can’t fund the whole thing. Grand Bend has shown in the past if you capture the community’s interest in a project, they will come up with the funding.
I feel there’s a large groundswell of support, maybe not for the project as it exists – it may need some tweaking. When we’ve got the municipality willing to improve the beach, why wouldn’t we take advantage of the opportunity to improve that area?