Joseph Sitko, left, and Frances Boot at Balls Beach Park about to launch a kayak into the Niagara River. Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Some kayakers are finding it challenging to launch their kayaks from Balls Beach Park. 

Balls Beach is one of the few places in Niagara-on-the-Lake to safely launch kayaks into the Niagara River. However, kayakers feel it’s not as accessible as it used to be. 

“It’s the accessibility that keeps on getting pushed and pushed and pushed further away,” said NOTL kayaker Frances Boot. 

Boot and Joseph Sitko, a fellow kayaker, said this is the ideal place to launch due to its calm waters, and it would be nice if they could access it more easily. 

The town has spent a few years trying to figure out how they want to accommodate the kayakers, but so far, they haven’t found a solution.

There were three spots near an old willow tree right near the launching spot, at the end of River Beach Drive, but the town closed it off temporarily for safety reasons in 2020. 

“One of the local people on here was saying it was too dangerous for children playing to have three parking spots here,” said Boot. 

That was almost three years ago, and the spot is still closed with little information on when it would reopen.  

“Those spots had been there for eons, It was even bigger before,” said Sitko. 

No studies were done at the time that proved the parking spot was a safety concern.

In July 2021, town staff recommended they reopen the spot with a hammerhead turnaround — where people wouldn’t be able to park, but they would be able to unload and load their kayaks.

It would have allowed parking on the south side of River Beach Drive and Turntable Way and connected Ball Street and River Beach Drive.

However, this idea was turned down by council at the time, and the town currently has no plans to connect Ball Street and River Beach Drive. 

Marah Minor, the town’s spokesperson, said right now “a permanent solution is still to be determined” and the spot will remain closed until the transportation master plan comes before council in the fall. 

“I’m looking forward to hearing about the master plan. I hope there’s something in there for us,” said Boot.

Minor made note of a municipal parking lot about 150 metres from Balls Beach where people can park for free.

However, it’s difficult for a single kayaker to carry their kayak to the beach from the parking lot, especially when it can weigh upwards of 45 pounds, says Boot.  

She added that many people she kayaks with are well over 50 years old and find it difficult to carry a heavy kayak that far. 

“Parking on Turntable Way and the municipal parking lot at River Beach Road and Melville Street is available to accommodate drop-off of kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and other floating devices,” said Minor. 

Ron Simkus, whose house sits at the corner of Turntable Way and River Beach Drive, said there’s a drop-off sign on Turntable Way. 

The sign is about 90 metres from Balls Beach.

Simkus has been an advocate for the restoration of Balls Beach since the flooding in 2017 damaged most of the area. 

He said he and his wife store their kayaks on Turntable Way, where the drop-off location is. 

“I’m 71 years old and we carry our kayaks to the shore just like everybody else,” he said. 

When the small parking area near the willow tree was temporarily closed off, kayakers could still park at the end of River Beach Drive — in front of Simkus’s house. 

“Last summer, we were able to park beside his grass, and now there’s no parking there,” said Boot. 

In that spot is now a “no parking” sign which was put up by the town, said Simkus in an email to The Lake Report. 

Boot said they just want a spot to safely drop off their kayaks close to the water. 

“There’s never been any restriction on people coming here or their recreational craft, (it’s) the cars that are the issue,” he said. 

“Everybody wants to get their car right to the water’s edge and that’s just not going to happen,” he added. 

Minor said the need for more parking at the dock area will be reviewed through the transportation master plan and the tourism strategy.

As reported by The Lake Report in 2021, the town explored options in the past, like launching from 144 River Beach Dr. where Whirlpool Jet Boats used to launch, or launching from Navy Hall.

However, Boot said there’s no way to walk into the water at Navy Hall since “somebody’s dumped two or three wheelbarrow barrels full of concrete there.” 

Minor said the need for additional kayak launch sites will be evaluated through the town’s parks & recreation master plan, but added that kayaks can still be launched from Balls Beach. 

Boot believes there should be more parking available on River Beach Drive close to Balls Beach to make it easier for kayakers to drop off their equipment.

This includes opening up the small parking area under the willow tree again, even if there was a permit system in place that allowed residents to park there, she said. 

“Surely there has to be some more answers besides just pushing everybody out and making it impossible for us to launch here.”

By Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 19, 2023 at 16:02

This item reprinted with permission from   The Lake Report   Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
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