Water is seen flowing down a stream. The camera's shutter speed was slow, showing the movement of the water. In the background, there's a mossy old stone wall, with trees poking out behind it.
An old stone wall along Stillwater Run Brook in Timberlea, part of the property acquired by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. — Photo: Irwin Barrett

The Nova Scotia Nature Trust is adding another green, mossy piece of the puzzle to Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes.

Keith and Anne Fraser donated a property in Timberlea, bordered on two sides by the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, to the Nature Trust to protect the area from development.

Here’s the location of the property, with Stillwater Stream running through the centre into Mill Pond, part of the Nine Mile River, at the bottom:

Map: Viewpoint.ca

The trust announced the acquisition in a blog post on Thursday, explaining the family history of the land:

The Frasers came from St. Margaret’s Bay to Timberlea, where they were granted 100 acres from the Crown in 1856 to bolster their growing lumber business. (A close reading of the original documents shows that these original grants were not considered sales; the family was technically leasing the land, in exchange for one peppercorn per year.) They built their family home on that first parcel of land, but over time they amassed well over a thousand acres in the area, concentrated around what became known as Fraser Lake.

In 1879, 8.75 acres on Stillwater Stream were granted to George Fraser, and his brother, Charles. The site was downstream from two additional family-owned parcels, and they selected the site to build an “up and down” mill, a vertical saw powered by a waterwheel on that stream. From 1879 to 1921, when a new mill was built further downstream, logs were run down the stream from the Fraser lands to the up and down mill for processing. Some timbers are still visible at the bottom of the stream in places, and the remnants of the old stone dam are still present today.

Because that was the location of the original mill, the property had sentimental value for the members of the Fraser family. Keith Fraser, grandson of George, purchased the property from his mother in the 1970s in the hope of eventually building a home for his family on it. But difficulty getting a right of way to actually access the land proved too much of a challenge, and he decided not to build there. Though the access issue was eventually resolved, when Keith’s daughter made the same decision to make her home elsewhere instead of building on the family land, Keith started to look into other options.

Fraser read about the Nature Trust’s last acquisition in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area, the 545-acre property known as the Wilderness Connector, and contacted Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes about protecting the property.

“We ended up going out to the property with some people from the Friends of Blue Mountain and him and it just kind of, everything clicked,” Bonnie Sutherland, executive director of the Nature Trust said in an interview Friday.

Sutherland said the acquisition protects the wilderness area from further development encroachment.

“It’s small, but it’s yet another piece that is primed for development,” she said.

The land was logged years ago, Sutherland said, but has some 100-year-old trees and a mix of other forest, some of which is approaching the old growth stage. Keeping the land undeveloped will also contribute to the health of the water system in the area, Sutherland said, noting the Nine Mile River, on the southern end of the property, flows right out into the ocean.

From a recreation standpoint, Sutherland said there are trails through the land, and it’s a common portage route for people canoeing the river.

“Where it fits in in terms of whether this becomes an access point is all part of that bigger picture planning that the municipality and the province and the Nature Trust are looking at doing,” Sutherland said, “in terms of, what’s the feature of this whole wilderness area? Where should we put trails? Where should we encourage people to use or not use, where are the fragile areas?”

The acquisition was mutually beneficial for the Nature Trust and Fraser, Sutherland said.

“We were very interested in the property to help consolidate this wilderness and the idea of ecological gifts really fit,” she said.

The federal government’s Ecological Gifts Program provides tax incentives for land donations like this one, and made sense for Fraser, who got the land from a family member for a song. It’s appraised at $96,000, so the capital gains tax on a sale would be steep.

“By donating the property, I get a tax receipt for the appraised value of $96,000, which I can use to reduce the amount of tax I have to pay,” Fraser is quoted in the blog post.

In other Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes developments, the municipality issued a request for proposals on Jan. 14 for a “comprehensive study” of the area.

The report, according to the RFP, “will be used to inform a future BMBCL park plan, where overarching themes of the plan include connections to nature through associated recreational uses, ecological conservation and climate change mitigation/adaptation.”

“The background work will also involve developing an engagement plan and engaging key stakeholders and the general public. An additional part of the Background Report is to include a review of governance models for the stewardship of wilderness parks,” the RFP said.

An attached timeline suggests there’ll be public engagement sessions this spring with a final report due by the end of November.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. This is an extremely important contribution to the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Regional Wilderness Park on the part of Keith and Anne Fraser. What a wonderful legacy for the Timberlea community and for the entire area.
    Mary Ellen Donovan