Representatives from a coalition of organizations hoping to expand a little-known park in Bedford made their pitch to Halifax council’s environment committee on Thursday, but couldn’t convince the councillors to take action.
Karen McKendry and Karen Robinson of Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Park Coalition made the presentation on their hopes for a regional park on the land between Lower Sackville, Hammonds Plains, and Highway 102.
There’s currently a local park on the site, with about 1,000 acres of land owned by Halifax Regional Municipality. The city runs a beach on Sandy Lake, with a lifeguard, and there’s a system of trails in the area.
“For those who know about the park, it’s a hidden gem,” McKendry told the committee.
“Swimming in Sandy Lake is glorious, the trails through old-growth forests are awe-inspiring and it’s a great place for dogs to run free in the official off-leash area. People also hike, trail run, birdwatch, canoe and ski and snowshoe in the winter in the park.”
But there’s another 1,800 acres of land in the area that should be protected too, McKendry and Robinson argue. That land, split into 22 parcels, is owned by the other two levels of government and by developers. And there’s concern that some of it may soon be developed, encroaching on the landscape and potentially threatening species at risk and biodiversity in the area.
Examiner contributor Suzanne Rent detailed the coalition’s goals and the issues around the park in the Morning File in October 2020:
The Sandy Lake Conservation Association has a comprehensive timeline of all the events about Sandy Lake. There’s been development in the area over the years and more attempts to make Sandy Lake a regional park. Sandy Lake (listed as Jacks Lake) is listed in the regional plan as a regional park. The Bedford Lions Club raised $150,000 to create Sandy Lake Beach here in 2001. In 2006, the 1,000 acres, which are owned by the HRM, along with the Bedford Lions beach, were identified as the Jacks Lake Regional Park, but that park still has no official designation. Karen McKendry, the wilderness outreach coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, which is part of the coalition, calls the park a “Schrodinger’s Cat kind of park.”
The coalition is also working to save Sandy Lake from development. While the park is listed in the regional plan as a regional park, it’s also on a list of growth centres (click here to see the list of growth centres on page 40 of the regional plan). The coalition wants Sandy Lake removed from that list. There are private owners of land in the area, including Clayton Developments, which now owns the land that was clear cut by Armco in 2013. The coalition put together a 241-page submission for when the regional plan undergoes review (click here to read that submission).
While McKendry and Robinson ultimately want the whole area protected, they came to the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee to ask councillors to start with an independent study.
“This park’s future is at a crossroads,” Robinson told the committee.
“Our coalition estimates we need to protect another 1,800 acres; however, we believe it’s extremely important that we all see what an independent biology-based boundary study would determine.”
The municipality is currently reviewing the 2006 Regional Plan, which sets development rules across the region. The coalition wants a biological study conducted in concert with that review.
“It would inform, and not bind, the work and the decisions of staff and the council,” Robinson said. “We hope that you will request this independent report today with a motion.”
While a few councillors asked questions, none of them made any motion to do so, or gave notice of motion at the end of Thursday’s meeting to signal that they’d do so at a future meeting.
Coun. Tony Mancini, chair of the committee, did offer the coalition some advice.
“We’ve received numerous emails in support of Sandy Lake, however the majority of them have been cut and paste,” Mancini said. “In my opinion, just sending us a cut and paste email has very little value.”