You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone… unless you take people on guided hikes to document the beautiful natural elements of the proposed Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes regional park.

That’s what the Ecology Action Centre and the Canadian Wildlife Federation did as part of a series of HaliBlitz—a census of biological diversity. “We were really thrilled and happy with the engagement,” says Geana McLeod, a wilderness-outreach officer with the Ecology Action Centre. “There was a real definite drive or interest in people going out with experts to learn.”

Getting a better idea of the species in the proposed park helps guide planning a trail system that will protect as much of the space as possible. “The theme of our whole event was that in those spaces, we’re not the most important thing that’s there,” McLeod says. “We’re visitors to that space.”

HaliBlitz was a weeklong affair culminating in a day-long series of hikes in Point Pleasant Park on a Saturday and then in several areas of the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area. Ecologist Dave Ireland of the Royal Ontario Museum was one of the experts brought in to lead hikes. He created the BioBlitz concept to help Torontonians become acquainted with the Rouge National Urban Park.

“I am totally blown away at the enthusiasm of the Haligonians about the nature in their backyard,” says Ireland, after taking his socks and shoes off to wade into a pond to collect a frog and a handful of eggs.

He brought it back to shore to show them to a group of kids, many of whom took pictures using the iNaturalist app.

Five-year-old Payton Clements, who joined Ireland on his amphibian tour of Point Pleasant Park, was hooked. “I want to save nature,” she says.

Ireland’s group spotted a ringneck snake, which is a rare sight in the park.

“I bet 99% of the people who walk through here never see one,” he says. “That was a big thrill for the kids.”

Ireland loves telling scientist’s stories and making them accessible to kids and parents. He enjoyed leading the tours in Halifax and is looking forward to joining the EAC next summer.

People taking part in BioBlitz were encouraged to use iNaturalist, an app that lets you take a picture of something in nature and share it with a community that crowd-sources the identification.

“The picture and data are fed into a global database of biodiversity to add to what we know,” Lara Gibson, a lab technician at Dalhousie University who volunteered to lead some iNaturalist workshops.

Stephen Patterson of Halifax used to bike up to Susies Lake as a kid; he remembers carrying a canoe across the highway. “We went up there a lot in the 1970s,” he says. “I’ve often thought about Susies Lake and I’m very happy that they’ve been able to hold off developing these areas.”

He would like the city to fulfill its commitment to creating the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes park. Marjorie Dawe of Bedford, who had not even heard of the area before the BioBlitz, says her hike with a naturalist opened her eyes to what’s there and made her want to go back. “It’s beautiful,” says Dawe. “Take your time. Don’t be in a rush. Soak it up.”

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