Morningstar Mill. SUPPLIED

Crowds that refuse to physically distance prompt City to act

With continued emergency calls to Morningstar Mill, and ongoing concerns about large crowds of people gathering at the site, the City of St. Catharines has moved to close the historic Morningstar Mill effective immediately.

According to a City statement issued Friday, June 19, the site has repeatedly drawn hundreds of individuals a day over the past month as more residents and visitors head outdoors with limited offerings due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Morningstar Mill, and its access to Decew Falls and the Bruce Trail system, has become a hot spot, with many individuals ignoring the advice of Niagara Region Public Health to maintain physical distancing. “Some of these individuals are gathering in groups larger than permitted under current Provincial Emergency Orders,” read the statement.

Beyond the considerable risk of COVID-19 transmission, the persistent crowds have generated “constant safety concerns, with individuals refusing to stay on marked trails, or prepare appropriately for excursions on the trail system.”

Off-trail areas can pose considerable risk of injury to hikers via hazards, such as unstable cliff edges, said the City. Since June 3, St. Catharines Fire Services has been called to the site five times to rescue injured or distressed hikers.

“This is really about protecting public health and safety,” said Deputy Chief Administrative Officer David Oakes, adding, “as we move forward with reopening facilities and spaces one of our guiding requirements will be continued protection of the public and mitigation of COVID-19 transmission. We understand many enjoyed this space and we are working to address the concerns, so we can reopen Morningstar Mill for everyone to safely enjoy.”

Adding to safety concerns, the City said that many visitors have ignored direction against parking illegally on roadways, often lining nearby roads with parked vehicles, limiting sight lines and emergency access to the area.

The City said that the Mill site is closed until further notice. The parking lot and gates will be barricaded and security persons will be on site seven days a week to deter trespassers.

“The City of St. Catharines is working with the City of Thorold to address parking issues in the area. Parking enforcement on surrounding streets will be increased, alongside the installation of more no-parking signage along Decew Road and Cataract Road.”