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You don’t know what you got till it’s gone

The fight for a Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes regional park is at a critical stage

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Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

This spring, my eight-year-old daughter cried when she saw the clear-cut behind the old Value Village location in the Bayers Lake Business Park.

When John Moore of Maskwa Aquatic Club went to check out the devastation, a worker smirked, “there’ll be no more hiking here.”

The area known as the “Whopper Drop,” was also a popular destination for mountain bikers. A few years ago, the city owned this land and Council decided at an in-camera meeting to sell it to expand the business park.

A group of citizens that includes Chris Miller of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Bob and Wendy McDonald of the Halifax Northwest Trails Association (HNWTA), tried to convince Council to see the value in the land, but they weren’t more convincing than the dollar, so we will have more buildings in Bayers Lake.

Hooray.

We already have enough retail space and if a developer is determined to create more, let’s make them put it on land that isn’t so valuable in areas that aren’t reflected on balance sheets.

This 73-hectare plot abuts the proposed Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes regional park, something that could be Canada’s finest urban wilderness park. Moore describes the clear-cut as “a slap in the face to all those who tried so hard to preserve this natural treasure trove from the ravages of development.”

The land is supposed to provide trail access on the Susies Lake side, but the ugly clear-cut looks like a scar from some of the vistas within the wilderness area. The clear-cut raises concerns about silt runoff into the pristine lake.

Not all is gloomy, however.

Last fall, Maskwa, CPAWS, and HNWTA held an open house to collect input from citizens and hired Cobequid Trail Consulting to use this information to enhance existing trails and mark them better.

The thinking is that in order to get someone to want to protect something, they have to know about it and care for it. More trails, or at least more awareness of trails, should attract more people to experience the area.

In June, the province accepted the group’s plan to develop trails on the provincially owned wilderness area and also protected an additional 451 hectares, expanding the total to 1,767 hectares.

Last fall’s open house revealed a range of opinions on how to make Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes land more accessible, ranging from making it more user-friendly to “please just leave it alone.” The good thing is that there is enough land that it will be possible to give everybody a little of what they want.

One comment from a citizen encapsulates the challenge: “This is likely the last chance to get this right so please do so. Wilderness is a fragile, and too quickly disappearing, thing.”

If more people take the time to see this natural treasure, they’ll tell their friends about it and their kids will develop a love for this land. Hopefully this will prevent the development of 569 hectares of privately owned adjacent lands. Council seems committed to making the park a reality, but progress has been painfully slow because private landowners who bought this land years ago are now looking to cash in. If they can’t develop it, they want to sell it for more than the city wants to pay and negotiations have been fruitless.

The private landowners are developers: Annapolis Group and the Stevens Group. They want to cut down trees and build single-family homes or expand the already sprawling retail jungle that is Bayers Lake. If you think a lakeside home sounds great, consider that the land is part of a proposed regional park that would be Canada’s finest urban wilderness park. It’s all there, beautiful Canadian wilderness with a chain of lakes that makes for an ideal canoe portage and an amazing area for hiking.

Many citizens mentioned the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes regional park during the Halifax Green Network consultation (www.halifax.ca/HalifaxGreenNetwork/), which should send a message to City Hall. We have a jewel in our midst and we shouldn’t let the short-sighted keep us from seeing it shine.

If you would like to experience Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes, there will be a Forest Day sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources on October 24 with guided hikes leading from Maskwa Aquatic Club. Check out the website for more details: www.bmbcltrails.com.

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