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Hamiltonians with Spencer Gorge in their ‘backyard’ want exemption from reservation fees

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A group of residents living near a popular outdoor destination in Hamilton wants the city to give them back free access to the area, bypassing a mandatory reservation system that recently bumped up fees for visitors.

The Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) began setting limitations on who can hike through the Spencer Gorge Conservation Area last year due to what it characterized as safety issues compounded by overwhelming community interest in the area’s falls and parks.

It’s an edict that was also implemented in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when the HCA limited capacity amid Ontarios’ physical distancing rules.

Greensville resident Catharine Roberts, who lives close to area attractions like Dundas Peak, Tews Falls and Webster’s Falls, believes she and her neighbours should be exempt from reservations and the fees since the trail system is in their own backyard.

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“We live in a rural area and we’ve chosen to do that mostly so that we have access to these natural wonders,” Roberts explained.

“But now we have to pay to visit the park that’s in our own backyard … and we have to endure the flood of tourists every year.”

Last year, the HCA’s Bruce Harschnitz explained that “thousands of people” have been overwhelming the area and some neighbouring communities.

He said Dundas Peak, Tews Falls and Webster Falls have become social media darlings in recent years with visitors posting selfies among the fall colours.

The size of the crowds became a safety issue requiring increased crowd control.

“So it’s to try and reduce the congestion in the area … increase safety and also increase the visitor experience for those coming to see the fall colors,” Harschnitz said.

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The HCA’s current fees for each of the Spencer Gorge attractions include an $11 vehicle fee plus $5 per passenger, on top of a $10 reservation fee.

Visitors without a reservation cannot go in at all since no walk-ups are allowed, even for those who don’t have a vehicle to park.

Using a family of four as an example, Roberts says that cost suddenly becomes $41 and that’s just to see one of the two attractions, not both.

Roberts understands the need to control crowds and lower residential traffic during the fall but insists the current fee structure is excessive.

“I don’t understand why there has to be a $10 fee to make a reservation over and above the entry fee that people need to pay,” she said.

“I think that for everybody to visit, there should be no reservation fee. I don’t really understand. That just feels like a cash grab.”

She also believes the car fee should be optional for those who don’t come with one.

A petition requesting free admission, started by Roberts, is directed at Ward 13 Coun. Alex Wilson.

As of Sept. 26, it has gathered just over 600 signatures.

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Global News has reached out to Wilson and the city for comment but has yet to receive a response.