Private property owners are drawing a figurative line in the sand by using no trespassing signs to keep the public off their land to try and restore some order in Port Dover.

The signs were put up by local property owners who say the public is not respecting that they're on private property when they set up on the beach for the day.

“Our signs are up to help people realize that it is private property and to ask for respect of private property,” Peter Knechtel, a property owner of the beach said.

Knechtel's family owns a restaurant on the beach, and he says before COVID-19 beachgoers were allowed everywhere due to an informal agreement that had maintenance and bylaw enforcement done by the county.

But the beach closed during the height of the pandemic, and when it reopened last summer, Knechtel says the county stopped helping.

It was around this time an overwhelming number of visitors took over.

The popular beach destination is just off the downtown strip of Port Dover, and while a large portion of it is private property, there is a small strip of the beach that is owned by Norfolk County and is a public beach.

Either side of this small strip is private property.

“Without enforcement, there’s nothing there and the people soon realized that and we were pretty much laughed at and asked to show our ID to the property and all these other things. It was a pretty rough summer for us,” Knechtel said.

As the property owner, Knechtel says he is liable for what happens on the property, and while he and his fellow property owners want to keep it open, they can’t afford to enforce rules on their own

“There has to be some kind of control to it, that’s why we’re reaching out to the county for some guidance and some leadership to figure out what we’re going to do going into the season,” Knechtel said.

Visitors and locals aren’t sure if the signs will do much.

Karen Gauthier, who lives around 50 kilometres away in Dunnville, questioned why people can’t take a dip in the lake to cool off on a hot day.

“How can you tell people if it’s 100 degrees that they can’t go in the water to cool their babies down,” Gauthier told CTV News.

Don Dobie, who works in the area of the beach said he doesn’t know if people will follow the signage.

With the May long weekend almost here, people in town are hoping something can be worked out

“You just hope that there’s a viable solution for all. And sooner than better for the community and for the Knechtels',” said Dobie.

In an email Norfolk County mayor Amy Martin said: “Council has directed staff to work with the private landowners to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement that will eliminate informal agreements that have existed. The County continues to have approved budgets to maintain the waterfront area.”

Meanwhile, Knechtel said the end goal is to have the beach fully opened again with better maintenance and enforcement of the rules.