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Technical Working Groups

Beach Access

Performance Indicator Summary

Performance Indicator: Beach Access

Technical Workgroup: Coastal TWG

Researched by: Baird & Associates

Modeled by:Algorithm developed by Baird and incorporated in the SVM

Activity represented by this indicator: Interaction of people with the beaches of Lake Ontario and the Upper St. Lawrence River. The PI algorithm calculates summer visitation levels for the State and Provincial Parks based on historical data and the influence of summer water levels. Using information on the expenditures of beach users (entrance fees, camping fees, food, etc), the total economic impact is calculated (visitation * expenditures = economic impact).

Link to water level: The quality of the recreational experience at a beach is dependant on many factors, including water quality, density of beach users, amenities/services available (e.g. washrooms), characteristics of the beach (i.e. cleanliness), and the overall size or width of the beach, to mention a few. Of the many factors listed above, the principal variable affected by the regulation of Lake Ontario water levels is the overall size or width of the beach. In other words, if the lake is purposely regulation high in a given summer, the increase in the static lake level will decrease the size or width of the beach. Other variables, such as water quality certainly influence the overall beach visit, or more importantly the decision to visit a particular beach. However, water quality is not linked to the current water levels study and it is not considered in this PI.

Performance Indicator Metric: Monthly mean lake levels for the summer season from May to August, as outlined below (water levels in meters (ft), IGLD'85)

  May June July Aug.
Upper Limit (meters/feet) 75.20 (246.7) 75.20 (246.7) 75.20 (246.7) 75.20 (246.7)
Upper Limit (meters/feet) 74.20 (243.4) 74.20 (243.4) 74.20 (243.4) 74.20 (243.4)

Temporal validity: Summer months of May, June, July and August

Spatial validity: Only a select number of parks in Ontario and New York State had visitation statistics, which was a mandatory requirement for the economic methodology. Therefore, the algorithm is only applied to the following six parks: Sandbanks and Presqu'ile Provincial Parks in Ontario and Wilson Tuscarora, Hamlin, Southwick and Westcott State Park in New York State. City beaches were not included in the analysis due to the lack of visitation statistics. Although expenditures by beach users at these sites are important and represent a significant economic impact, they were not included because of the lack of statistics on visitation.

Links with hydrology used to create the PI algorithm: A Beach User Survey was completed in August of 2003. The methods and results are summarized in the Baird (2004d) report dated April 7, 2004. They are reviewed briefly. A series of flags and floating buoys were used across a beach profile to mark the hypothetical location of the waterline 0.5 m (1.6 ft) increments, from 73.2 m (240.1 ft) to 77.2 m (253.2 ft). The picture below shows the flag setup during the data collection at Sandbanks Provincial. A standard questionnaire was developed to categorize the beach users and their preference for lake levels, as interpreted by their response to the hypothetical water levels at each flag and buoy. The results of the survey indicated beach users prefer lake levels in the range of 74.2 m (243.4 ft) to 75.7 m (248.3 ft). When lake levels were outside of this range, a reduction in beach visitation was predicted, particularly for water levels above the range.

The Algorithm: The results of the Beach User Survey were used to develop the PI algorithm. Specifically, the influence of different lake levels on an individuals decision to visit the beach. For example, if the waterline reached the flag associated with an elevation of 76.2 m (249.9 ft), over 20% of the survey respondents indicated they wouldn't visit the beach. Following this methodology, we were able to convert lake levels to a multiplier for beach visitation. The graphic below summarizes the survey results at Sandbanks. The horizontal location of the nine flags is plotted along with the corresponding vertical elevation on the Y2 axis (right axis). The pink diamond above or below the flag corresponds to the percentage of beach users willing to visit the beach at that water level (Y1 axis, left side). For example, Flag 3 corresponds to a vertical elevation of 2.0 m (6.6 ft) above Low Water Datum or 76.2 m (249.9 ft). The pink diamond above Flag 3 indicates that 78% of the respondents would visit the beach if the waterline was located at this elevation.

Sandbanks Provincial Park
Visitation Distribution with Changing Water Levels

Validation: The population sample size for the survey was 449 at Sandbanks and 442 at Hamlin State Park. Both samples are above the minimum size of 384 to ensure a 95% confidence level and 5% error (based on a population of 1 million visitors).

Documentation and References:

  • Baird, 2004d. Beach Access Performance Indicator: Methodology and Shared Vision Model Application. Prepared for the Coastal TWG, date 2004

  • Ohio State University, 1999. The Value of Lake Erie Beaches. Prepared for Ohio Sea Grant

  • Ontario Parks, 2001. Ontario Parks User Survey, Day Visitor Statistical Summary 2000. Prepared for the Ministry of Natural Resources

  • Ontario Parks, 2001. Ontario Parks User Survey, Camper Statistical Summary 2000. Prepared for the Ministry of Natural Resources

Risk and uncertainty assessment: The field data collected during the summer of 2003 was used to develop a visitation curve for all the parks discussed earlier. The curve is then used to related lake levels to visitation at a Provincial or State Park. In other words, we are predicting human behavior, which is a complicated endeavor. However, the methodology has been peer reviewed and endorsed by the Coastal TWG, the Economics Advisory Committee and the PFEG. It will provide reasonable results to compare plans and identify lake levels that are optimal for beach visitation and thus revenue generation for the parks.

See Excel document for graphics

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