I love the ocean. Being beside the water inspires me, and comforts me. But I can’t bring myself to head to Parlee Beach, no matter how hot it gets or much I miss the ocean.
It’s not the water quality that keeps me away, though. It’s the $13 fee to access the beach.
I grew up in Nova Scotia, another province with provincial parks along coastal shores that promise the warmest salt water north of the Carolinas. Access to that water is free, with the added benefit of not having made international headlines for poor water quality.
If we really want to turn around Parlee Beach’s reputation, it will take much more than a photo of the health minister floating on his back, making water fountains (though I did kind of love that he was willing to do it). It’s going to take some major education on the part of every New Brunswicker so we can say what’s being done to make sure the quality continues to improve. Did you see Cindi Forsythe’s Letter to the Editor? Other vacationers in the Dominican Republic were quizzing her on what’s happening at Parlee Beach because they’d heard it was polluted! Turning that around is going to take creative thinking and bold action.
There are advocates who will debate both sides of the water quality issue, arguing whether or not enough is being done to address the problem. I’m not in a position to give an educated opinion on that, but I can share my honest opinion as someone who the province should be trying to convince to head to the beach: Drop the entrance fee, and I’ll come. I think a lot more New Brunswickers would, too.
It doesn’t need to be an indefinite waiver. Take a page from Parks Canada’s marketing playbook. Dropping the park entrance fees to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017 was a fantastic idea. Families like mine, who usually skip the parks or pick just one heritage site to visit each summer, made an effort to get out and explore while the promotion lasted. This summer, even though I have to pay to enter again, I’m much more inclined to pack up the kids and head to Fundy for a day. (And guess what? Fundy’s entrance fee is cheaper than the Parlee Beach fee!)
Imagine if, after seeing a 26 per cent drop in attendance in 2017, New Brunswick had decided to waive the entrance fee at Parlee Beach this summer. Combine that with a great media campaign to spread the word and encourage local families to return to Parlee. Then add on an influencer campaign, ensuring social media feeds around the world were filled with photos of families, couples, and individuals enjoying the stunning scenery and hospitality that Parlee Beach has to offer – along with an understanding of what’s being done to keep this beautiful area clean. Parlee Beach could easily move from the list of “dirtiest beaches in the world” to a more rightful spot on the “stunning beaches you’ll never believe are in Canada” or the “25 most Instagram-worthy beaches in the world” list.
Sure, it would be an expense, but it also be an investment in the province’s tourism numbers. People are swayed by the images they see and the stories they hear. A summer of free beach access, combined with campaigns that not only highlight the beach but also the efforts to keep it clean and safe, could be just the thing to boost those numbers. And who knows? Maybe I’d get so used to going to Parlee Beach, I’d be happy to pay the annual fee the following year.