COVID-19: The hazards of increased tourism to rural areas

Kaia Proctor / May 6th, 2020

Signs warning people to be aware of riders are consistently placed around Southlands. The issue is many visitors don’t know what precautions they should be taking to keep themselves, horses, and riders safe.

Debbie Bailey is a resident of Southlands, an idyllic equestrian community tucked away just below Southwest Marine drive in Vancouver. The neighborhood is generally quiet and while it’s relatively close to downtown, it seems kilometres away from the busy city lifestyle.

Bailey spends much of her time caring for her horse. While her routine is fairly cemented from day to day, recently Bailey and her neighbors have had to add a new step to their schedules.

They’ve been placing garbage cans around the neighbourhood to keep up with trash coming from a sudden uptake in tourists. 

“With Covid there’s been a real issue with too many people being at the beaches and in public and not staying far enough apart. So some journalists put out articles saying ‘Here are some spots that are not very populated for you to go to.’ So all of a sudden we’ve had some great impacts come up with tourists.” – Debbie Bailey, horse owner and Southlands resident

Most residents, including Bailey and Southlands Heritage Farm owner Jennifer Maynard, are happy to share their community with people who need some fresh air. 

“They’re just parking and going for a walk. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m happy to share my wonderful neighborhood. I resent the people that speed by in cars – but walkers, cyclists, kids on bikes, I’m cool with it.”- Jennifer Maynard, owner of Southlands Heritage Farm

Residents have some safety concerns when it comes to how the public interacts with horses.

Despite their size, horses are easily frightened animals and can “spook” (run, buck, or kick suddenly out of fear) without much reason. Bailey says it’s extremely important for the public to educate themselves and be mindful while coming through a community which seems to have as many horses as people (with over 300 horses being housed on properties in the area) and riders on the streets are almost constant.

“There’s bicycles and kids and lose dogs coming through and they’re not at all familiar with horses and that they spook, and bikes will come racing beside them not saying heads up or anything so that’s been a bit of an issue” – Debbie Bailey, horse owner and Southlands resident

According to Bailey, the main concern among Southlands residents is for the safety of tourists, horses and riders. As when horses spook, because of their strength and size they can easily injure or even cause death to themselves and others.

“It’s an education for people, they’ve all got to get out somewhere, but if you’re going into a horse community it’s important to be aware of.” – Debbie Bailey, horse owner and Southlands resident

While BC Health Minister Bonnie Henry has said social distancing outdoors does not pose an increased risk for contracting Covid-19, entering more remote areas without educating yourself on the possible risks can be a hazard.

As the demand for less busy areas within Vancouver to get outside likely won’t be subsiding until social distancing protocols do, it’s important that the public get informed on potential risks of any new areas or communities they haven’t entered before.

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Make sure to maintain a respectful distance from all people and animals until the provincial government says otherwise, to maintain a safe outdoors environment for everyone.