Permits now required to run ‘public-facing’ programs in Centre Wellington parks

The new requirement, introduced the week of July 20, has caused confusion – and even some anger – with business owners

CENTRE WELLINGTON – Centre Wellington Township is now requiring all “public-facing” businesses and groups to obtain a permit prior to offering programs or classes in public parks.

The requirement, introduced the week of July 20, has caused confusion – and even some anger – with business owners who feel they are just limping along in the early days of stage three of the province’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

Pat Newson, Centre Wellington’s managing director of community services, said it is not a “money-grab,” as some people have alleged.

“For us to reopen facilities, we have to create a strategy for each space under the new COVID guidelines,” Newson said in a phone interview on July 30.

She added every reopening plan, for every township-owned facility, must first be approved by public health.

Newson said after months of only being able to offer services online, many fitness and yoga studios, as well as arts and crafts groups, are taking advantage of the warm weather and are now holding classes in public parks.

“We have become aware that some classes have been offered for some time,” Newson said.

“We needed to get the parks under our care and control again. So, we created a system so we can be aware.”

Businesses and groups must now get a permit, which costs $15 and guarantees the permit-holder the allotted space for two hours.

Newson is encouraging all organizations and businesses using parks for classes and programs to contact the parks department and find out if they are exempt or not.

“We’re trying to be accommodating,” Newson said.

“But if they are offering a public-facing service – whether they charge or not – contact us.”

Lindsay Bolger, who owns Soulworks Studio, a yoga studio and hair salon in Salem, said when everything shut down in March, she moved her yoga classes online and offered them for free.

“Just to support the community,” she said.

“Yoga can help with mental health and that’s what we need right now.”

Now that the region is in stage three, Bolger has opened the hair salon and moved her online yoga class to Veterans Park in Salem.

“When the weather got nicer, I thought we’d go to the park,” she said.

“We’re outside, a small group, physically distanced, and the class is still free or by donation.”

Fifteen dollars isn’t a lot, she said, but it adds up if she was to run two classes a day, five days a week.

She has contemplated resuming classes in the studio, but because of physical distancing, she can’t cover the rent with only five people in class.

“There are lots of studios using the park every day,” Bolger said.

“We should be celebrating that people are helping others at this time. This (permits) is just making things more difficult.

“It might not seem like much, but it’s significant for me. It just seems unfair.”

Newson said permits have always been required to hold large events in public parks, like the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games, Riverfest, and the Farmers’ Market.

Minor sports organizations, like soccer and baseball, also have agreements with the township to use sports fields.

For smaller park users, “this is new,” Newson said.

“This is only because of COVID. We understand that all businesses are being challenged and we want to make the parks available.

“They are open for casual use. If you are running classes, you need to contact us.”

She added, “We will wait and watch and decide when we can lift it.”

To reach the parks department, email or phone 519-846-9691 ext. 903.