Carelessness spoiling Swell Bay beach

One of the perks of living near Rainy Lake is boating access to its uninhabited, remote sandy beaches where swimming and camping are popular during the summer months.
Visitors come and go from these places, and are supposed to be responsible stewards of the Crown land they enjoy by picking up their garbage and not cutting down live trees.
But often that’s not what happens.
One such Rainy Lake beach that these days looks more like a dump than a summer destination is known as “Indian Beach” on Berry Island, located on Swell Bay.
Tree damage, charred garbage, human waste, and shards of glass are everywhere, which have made the beach an eyesore for area boaters, cabin owners, and other individuals concerned with what’s become a chronic problem.
“I like to come over here and enjoy the beach, but it’s not natural [looking] anymore,” one boater remarked during a look in on the beach late last week and someone who used to frequent it for a daytime swim.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who come here and picnic who are going to be really disgusted with this mess,” she added. “You can’t have little kids running up and down the beach with all that glass in the sand.
“And you wouldn’t even want to walk back there,” she said, pointing to the bushes near the shoreline. “It’s just a big toilet.”
Most of the damage to the surroundings on the island beach reportedly is done on long weekends when large parties of teenagers head up to camp out there and enjoy the outdoors with friends.
Concerned individuals hear them and see them, and don’t want to harangue at the younger generation for having fun, but they are frustrated at seeing Crown land left in such a state after they’re gone.
For starters, cutting down trees on Crown land is illegal without a permit and is considered an offence under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. Individuals can be charged by MNR conservation officers who see them doing it.
“We have an ongoing problem on a couple of the islands not being left very nice,” confirmed Linda Wall, area supervisor for the local Ministry of Natural Resources office.
“Berry Island is Crown land,” she noted. It’s a place where younger adolescents go and party, which I think in itself is a wonderful thing—that they have a place to go and can do that—but chronically each year when they leave there is garbage, litter, broken glass, and trees cut down.
“It gets other beach users and surrounding cabin owners really upset.
“[But] the thing about Fort Frances is that the kids have opportunities to do things that other kids just don’t have opportunity to do, and why would we discourage that?” asked Wall. “Why would we suggest that we don’t think they should [use those beaches]?
“Rather than just being angry at them, let’s make sure that they understand the importance of when they go to a place like that, leave it how they found it, take everything out, and why it’s important that they do that,” she stressed.
“I’m not going to participate in something that encourages [the public] to be grumpy about the kids,” Wall reiterated.
“I think we need to reach them and make them understand that if you want to come back and find this pretty spot to party on, you have to take some responsibility to ensure that you leave it how you found it, or better.”
Wall, in her capacity, has received complaints about the island virtually every summer since she began working here six years ago—and presumed the problem was ongoing even before that.
MNR officers keep an eye out if they’re in the area, as does the OPP’s Marine Unit, which also confirmed it is aware of the Berry Island issue.
Dale Callaghan, president of the Rainy Lake Conservancy, thought he knew the lake well having been living on or near it for years.
But he didn’t know where Indian Beach was until a concerned boater, looking for support on the dilemma from the environment-friendly organization, took him there.
What he saw floored him in surroundings as pristine as Rainy Lake. But the end-all for Callaghan was a giant, old living tree hacked down by campers during the Victoria Day weekend.
“There were little live tree stumps hacked off everywhere, but the big Norway Pine was the clincher,” he remarked. “This is a beautiful beach and somewhere along the line, [somebody] has to take a bit of a stand.
“[As a conservancy], we don’t want to go around shouting and screaming, but I think things could change [and] parents must know that their kids are out there in these places,” Callaghan reasoned.
The Rainy Lake Conservancy, in co-operation with the MNR, plans to kickstart an “Adopt a Beach” program, wherein volunteers go out and clean up lake beaches to keep them presentable—and perhaps even take some firewood for the next visitors who camp there.
Wall also believes parents of teenagers known to frequent these beaches need to have the talk with their kids on the importance of responsible stewardship, as well as to stress sanitary practices while enjoying the great outdoors.
“A lot of parents probably don’t know what goes on when their kids go up there, they are just glad that they come home safe, as am I,” said Wall. “But bring your garbage out. Practice sanitary disposal of your waste.
“Take a little spade with you, dig a hole, and bury it—because you could be the one who’s had too many beers and step in it the next time.
“Dig a little hole, then cover it up,” she reiterated.
“This whole issue [of careless stewardship] is not just about Berry Island,” Wall stressed. “It’s about how people conduct themselves on beaches, period.
“Berry Island is just one example where it went awry and continues to go awry.”