Thousands of people visited the famed Hallerbos bluebell wood yesterday, ignoring pleas from the authorities to stay away.
The 552-hectare wood on the outskirts of Halle in Flemish Brabant is famous for its extensive carpet of bluebells, which bloom in late April or early May.
The event is a huge attraction, and the Flemish nature authority ANB lays on extra parking places, portable toilets and shuttle buses from Halle railway station.
But the pandemic has changed all of that, and the Hallerfestival, as it is known, was cancelled last year, and again in 2021. ANB issued an appeal to people not to make their own way to the wood, as no extra facilities were being provided, and safe visiting conditions could not be guaranteed.
Despite appeals, however, visitors turned up in their thousands, with cars parked everywhere. And while there was generally enough space for people to remain distanced, there was some crowding at crossroads and at the exits to the wood.
“We really did not expect that so many tourists would come,” said Marc Snoeck (Vooruit), mayor of Halle, speaking to Het Laatste Nieuws.
“Despite all the measures taken, hundreds of people kept arriving. Together with ANB, we made the Hallerbos as unattractive as possible. By not providing ice cream stands, car parks, shuttles and public toilets and closing the barriers, we hoped this would deter people. We couldn’t have done more, because after all it remains a forest, not a park that we can just close. The intention was that only people who are from our region or city would come for a walk. But again, we cannot stop or forbid people from other cities and towns to come and walk here.”
The city council will hold an evaluation meeting today to discuss what other measures might be taken. Police yesterday gave out fines for parking offences, but not for gatherings.
“We found that it was mainly families who were out walking, so we did not have to hand out any fines for the ban on gatherings,” a police spokesperson for the local Zennevallei force said.