Surveyors have been working along a property line in the Hobsons Lake area behind Kearney Lake, raising speculation that Hobsons Lake is part of the land the city is buying for the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park.
That purchase was approved by Halifax council during a closed-door meeting on November 28. Council released no details of the purchase — neither the parcel(s) in question nor the price to be paid.
Chris Miller, who is the conservation biologist with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), was alerted of the surveying work Friday, and so hiked out to the area Saturday morning. Miller tells me he saw flagging tape running along the property line from the Colins Road cul-de-sac towards Hobsons Lake, and also behind the back of the houses along Colins road.
Those lines partly define a 25-acre parcel owned by West Bedford Holdings Limited, one of the companies associated with the Shaw Group. The president of West Bedford Holdings is none other than Richard Butts, the former CAO of the HRM. The parcel is assessed at $64,500 as resource land (i.e., forest or farm land).
The land to the south of the parcel is provincial crown land that has already been designated as wilderness.
To the north and west of the parcel is a larger 147-hectare parcel also owned by West Bedford Holdings, which is also assessed as resource land, at $580,400. That parcel is divided by a stream called Black Duck Brook. The northern part of the parcel, including the brook, is part of Bedford West Development Sub-Area #7, as outlined in the Bedford West Secondary Planning Strategy adopted in 2003, which calls for the brook to be a dividing line between residential neighbourhoods to the north and park and open space to the south.
Miller guesses that the city is buying both the 25-acre parcel and the southern half (south of Black Duck Brook) of the larger parcel, so that Hobsons Lake is brought into the wilderness park.
“[The flagging] could mean something, or it could mean nothing, who knows?,” says Miller. “But if lands near Hobsons Lake are the lands that are to be acquired for the regional park, that is significant. Those are good lands.”
“The shoreline of Hobsons Lake area is a destination point for people who use the wilderness, and is entirely in private ownership,” he continues. “There’s a number of significant rivers and streams in that corner of the wilderness, and some of the nicest stands of old forest in the wilderness occur near there as well.”
Additionally, says Miller, there are make-shift trails criss-crossing the area. The trails aren’t properly designed and aren’t maintained. He feels that if the land becomes public, then fewer and better trails can be built and maintained.
The southernmost parcel on Colins Road — at the cul-de-sac and adjacent both to the crown land to the south and to the West Bedford Holdings land to the west — is owned by the city. HRM bought the parcel from the Annapolis Group in 2002, when that company subdivided the land for the Colins Road development. That parcel, says Miller, could serve as an access point to a trail system into the wilderness park.
Miller wouldn’t speculate on possible land purchases on the east side of the proposed wilderness park, near Susies and Quarry Lakes and the Bayers Lake Industrial Park. That is the area that the Annapolis Group has proposed developing, and the area that probably most threatens the “ridgetop to ridgetop” demarcation of the wilderness park as originally envisioned — that is, suburban development could creep down the ridge line west of the Bicentennial Highway towards the Birch Cove Lakes.
For now, however, Miller is excited about the prospect of land around Hobsons Lake becoming part of the wilderness park. “The park has been promised going all the way back to the 1970s,” he says. “Residents fought off a quarry there in the 1980s. They fought off a planned four-lane highway in the 1990s and early 2000s. They managed to get the city to write the park into the policies of the HRM Regional Plan in 2006, but the city has never managed to secure a single hectare for the park, until now, hopefully.”