WINDSOR, ONT. -- It will be up to the Parks Department at Windsor City Hall to implement new measures to prevent large gatherings along parks and trails during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, council narrowly rejected a motion that would have produced a report laying out the estimated costs to potentially hire more enforcement, erect new signage and create one-way trails in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We want you to enjoy these spaces but, at the same time, we want you to do so in a way that can be safe,” said Kieran McKenzie, Windsor’s Ward 9 councillor.

The report is in response to a council question posed by McKenzie at the May 4 regular meeting of council to see how the city could better allow access to parks and trails while maintaining physical distancing.

The answer according to the report – signage and education.

In a 6-5 vote, council decided against further formalizing any measures.

“Our administration has already indicated that they’re looking at the usage of the trails, that they’re cognizant of the safety issues that could be there,” said McKenzie.

“As well as the fact that we want for people to safely use these trails and what are the best ways we can encourage people to do that.”

Doctor’s warning

The report to council took on extra meaning in the wake of widespread condemnation of large crowds at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park over the weekend.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex, issued a stern warning on Monday – flouting public health recommendations could lead to another lockdown.

“If you want to keep the economy, keep the businesses open and running, we need to make sure that we’re not adding to the burden of cases,” said Ahmed.

The thousands of people that turned up at the Toronto park were in violation of not only physical distancing rules but also limits to public gatherings of no more than five.

Ahmed worries that type of attitude in Windsor-Essex, which has been hit harder by COVID-19 than most communities in Ontario, could lead to disaster.

“If things like that happen, that’s exactly something that can trigger a second wave,” said Ahmed. “Even from the past practices, from our history lesson – 1918 Spanish Flu – the second wave was much bigger and much more [deadly].”

Nothing off the table

While council is not taking direct action in ordering new signs or more boots on the ground for city parks and trails, that does not mean the parks department is out of options.

“Nothing’s been taken off the table,” said McKenzie in an interview with CTV News.

The report outlined the creation of one-way trails to cut down on cross-traffic and better maintain the recommended physical distancing between people – at least two metres.

However, the report notes just 15 per cent of trails in city parks would be candidates for this looping method, like those at Aspen Lake or Ford Test Track. Most trails in the city are linear systems like those found along Windsor’s waterfront or the Ganatchio Trail. Some portions of trail could also be closed where physical distancing will be made difficult.

“With the weather improving, people are increasingly going to be going outdoors to try to be able to get their exercise in, enjoy the nice weather and certainly nobody blames them for that,” said McKenzie. “In fact, in some respects, we’re encouraging people to do that."

What will likely not happen without council backing is a proposal to hire more enforcement officers.

The report notes hiring extra Windsor Police Auxiliary constables to patrol city parks and trails could cost between $590 to $1,180 for a five to a ten-hour shift.

The Windsor Police Auxiliary are currently assisting city by-law control by providing three foot-patrol units and one mobile unit per shift to monitor popular parks.

The enforcement task is a tall one though, as the report highlights the city has over 200 parks and 135 km of trails.