The Hamilton Conservation Authority’s announcement requiring reservations to visit Spencer Gorge from September 17 has some HCA pass holders unsettled – not because of the reservation system, but the associated fees.
Christian Wagner, who lives on the east mountain, and his wife are HCA passholders. When he recently heard about the requirement to reserve, he inquired with the conservation authority about fees for pass holders.
He was shocked to learn that the fee is $10.
“I was expecting a buck or two,” he said, noting that he and his wife are also members of provincial parks and although they often have to sign up for day use at the parks, the process is free. “I just thought that was a bit excessive, considering that about 37% of the (HCA) budget is made up of Hamilton taxpayers.”
Wagner said for a family of four without a pass to visit Spencer Gorge, it would cost $10.50 for the vehicle, $5 per person – plus a $10 entry fee – for a total of $40.50. While it would be free for Wagner — after paying nearly $130 for an annual pass — he would still be charged a $10 reservation fee.
“I understand why they do it,” he said of the reservation system. “I completely understand; I have no problem with any of this.
“I understand they want to limit traffic. I just think the $10 is a gouge.
According to the HCA website, a regular annual pass costs $115 plus HST, while a renewal costs $105 plus HST, a senior pass costs $95 plus HST, and a family pass costs $175 plus HST. Alternatively, a two-year regular pass costs $210 plus HST, a two-year senior pass costs $190 plus HST.
Sarah Gauden, marketing and events manager for the Hamilton Conservation Authority, said in an email that the $10 fee has been in place since the reservation system launched in fall 2020.
“We set the fee at $10, rather than the campsite reservation fee, which is $15,” she explained, “so as not to be prohibitively expensive while helping to cover the costs associated with a visitor management system.
She said fees for passholders are similar to those charged for camping or special events at Westfield Heritage Village. Gauden added that the reservation system will be in place until mid-November for the fall color season, after which it will be available to pass holders without reservations or additional fees.
Due to traffic congestion and parking issues in the area before the reservation system – which Gauden said was a safety issue – the HCA made the decision not to allow tours without a reservation, even if they were pass holders. She said the move was to eliminate, as much as possible, the number of people coming to park in the Greensville area.
“The purpose of the reservation system itself is to manage the number of visits, which in turn provides a better experience for visitors and protects the ecological health of the region,” she said.
For his part, Wagner said he and his wife regularly visit the various HCA properties, adding that they find the pass to be decent value, paying for itself after five or six visits. However, he said he plans to discuss the issue with outgoing Ward 6 Councilor Tom Jackson – an HCA board member – during the campaign trail.
Gauden said the conservation authority will review the process and system once the season is over and “consider all aspects including booking fees.”