On January 18, 2018 the Halifax Regional Municipality purchased approximately 197 acres of lands to form part of a Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park. This important acquisition marks the first parcel of land to be acquired by the municipality towards the creation of the regional park, which is proposed in the municipality’s Regional Plan.
The Hobson Lake lands are to the rear of properties along Collins Road and beside provincial Crown lands that are already designated as part of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area. The Halifax Regional Municipality has been seeking a formal access to the provincially-designated wilderness area for some time. The municipality continues its efforts to acquire additional lands towards the creation of the park.
The Hobson Lake lands have been acquired from West Bedford Holdings and will both enable public access into the regional park and support the protected wilderness area by acting as a buffer between it and developed lands. The acquisition includes provision for a future regional park trailhead entrance that is anticipated to be developed with parking and services for park users. The entrance will be achieved as part of the parkland dedication process as the company develops the next stages of its Bedford West community, which is anticipated in the next four to six years.
With the acquisition, municipal staff will be consulting with both the province and the public regarding the future planning of the Hobson Lake lands as part of the creation of the overall Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park. Public consultation is expected to begin in the spring.
In 2006 the Regional Plan was approved by Council. It outlined the creation of a public wilderness park around Blue Mountain and Birch Cove Lakes. The conceptual park boundary, made up of a unique mix of natural forest stands, lakes, streams, wetlands and breathtaking vistas, is within a stone’s throw of Halifax.
Why these lands?
The lands that make up the proposed regional park offer a true wilderness experience in the midst of our urban environment. It is Halifax’s goal that the proposed regional park provide:
Provide urban wilderness recreation
The Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes area has been referred to as “the municipality’s Keji”. The lakes and forests offer you an opportunity to leave urban life behind and be immersed in a unique natural habitat within minutes of the city. Recreation opportunities include short, moderate, and long hiking, cycling, swimming, skating, fishing and canoeing.
Water quality protection
The proposed park provides an opportunity to protect headwaters of both the Birch Cove Lakes and Nine Mile River watersheds. This assures better water quality for communities downstream, and the natural environment.
Biodiversity is declining, so the large tract approach preserves a variety of ecosystems native to the area. Significant lands on the interior of the proposed park have already been protected by the Province of Nova Scotia as the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes (BMBCL) wilderness area.
Wilderness corridor protection
Studies have shown that disconnected natural areas are not sustainable. Halifax’s geography gives the opportunity to protect wilderness corridors. This ensures plants and animals can be preserved near urban areas while still being connected to the rest of the province. These links to other natural areas also serve to strengthen bio-diversity.
Connecting open space
The Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes wilderness corridor has the potential to connect to Pockwock, Big Five Bridges and Western Common wilderness areas. A key objective of the Regional Plan.
After the 2006 Regional Plan was approved, staff began taking action to advance the creation of the park. This timeline highlights some of the important milestones that have occurred:
2006: Regional Plan approved, outlining the creation of a public wilderness park around Blue Mountain and Birch Cove Lakes. The conceptual park boundary [PDF] is outlined on Map 11 of the current Regional Plan.
September 2007: Annapolis Group and Susie Lake Developments requested initiation of Secondary Planning Process for their lands along the Highway 102 West Corridor, a portion of which falls within the conceptual park boundary [PDF].
2009: Province of Nova Scotia designated Crown lands that fall within, and just west of, the proposed park boundary as protected wilderness area.
July 2009: Annapolis Group and Susie Lake Developments submitted a request to Halifax Regional Council to initiate Secondary Planning Strategy for their lands.
November 16, 2010: Regional Council directed staff to:
- Undertake a watershed study for highway 102 West Corridor Lands and await completion of Halifax Water’s waste water functional plan
- Negotiate boundaries for Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park, in relation to the Highway 102 West Corridor Lands, through a facilitated process with an independent facilitator
- Defer review of criteria under Policy S-3 (Section 3.2.2 of the Regional Plan [PDF]) to determine whether to initiate a secondary planning process for Highway 102 West Corridor Lands.
September 17, 2013: Regional Council approved the Terms of Reference [PDF] for an independent facilitator and authorized staff to enter into discussions with private property owner representatives.
March 2014: Honourable Justice Heather Robertson accepted appointment as facilitator of the Watershed Study, following the study’s completion and acceptance by Regional Council.
2014: Regional Plan [PDF] incorporates conceptual park boundary [PDF] in Map 11.
- Province owns majority of public lands within Map 11.
- Lands owned by province have been designated as wilderness area under Wilderness Areas Protection Act.
- Private lands contained within conceptual park boundary are owned by a number of different land owners.
September 2016: Regional Council approved motions to:
- Receive Facilitator’s Report [PDF] regarding negotiation of proposed boundaries for Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park in relation to Highway 102 West Corridor and take no further action concerning the facilitation process or the report’s recommendations.
- Refuse request to initiate secondary planning for all Hwy 102 West Corridor lands, at the time.
- Direct staff to explore opportunities and develop a program to acquire land to establish the proposed Blue Mountain-Birch Cove regional park, with a priority of providing public access to provincially protected wilderness area, that includes, but is not limited to:
- discussions with the federal and provincial governments
- discussions with all private land owners that own property located within conceptual park boundary in Map 11 of Regional Plan
- discussions with land conservation and community groups
- Review potential use of land use planning tools and conservation easements.
- Staff was further directed to provide progress reports back to Regional Council within six months and then on an annual basis.
January 2017: Annapolis Group gave notice of its intention to commence legal proceedings against Halifax.
April 25, 2017: A motion was unanimously approved by Regional Council directing staff to undertake additional analysis and discussions.