Charlie’s Lake in the foreground with Kearney Lake in the background and the land being protected in between. — Photo: CPAWS
Charlie’s Lake in the foreground with Kearney Lake in the background and the land being protected in between. — Photo: CPAWS

The provincial government is expanding the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area, fixing a public access issue and protect an ecologically sensitive area.

It’s one of 61 wilderness areas, nature reserves and provincial parks on a new list for protection, announced in a news release on Thursday.

“The Rankin government intends to designate 61 more wilderness areas, nature reserves and provincial parks across the province to protect Nova Scotia’s unique biodiversity and habitats for mainland moose, Atlantic salmon, migratory birds and other species,” the release said.

Of particular interest for Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, is the expansion of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area. The province plans to protect a 40-acre property between Kearney Lake and Charlie’s Lake. It’s long been a popular trailhead for hikers exploring the wilderness area, but last year that trailhead was blocked.

A map showing the parcel being protected. — CPAWS

“That area is where there had been this issue of the public not having public access to public lands, which was a ridiculous scenario,” Miller said in an interview Thursday.

That’s because the area has been the subject of a years-long impasse between the provincial government, an aquatic club and Miller’s organization. The Halifax Examiner detailed the issue last May:

The trailhead at the end of Saskatoon Drive is on land leased by the Maskwa Aquatic Club on Kearney Lake. The club recently put up no trespassing signs in its parking lot. “Unauthorized access for recreational or any other activities is strictly prohibited,” reads one sign.

This is just the latest hit to public access to the trails and lakes in the area. In late March, hikers found no trespassing signs on property lines of the private lands next to the wilderness area, owned by developer Annapolis Group Inc.

But this blockage is different: the public is being barred from using publicly owned land to access publicly owned and protected wilderness.

Maskwa leases its land from the provincial Department of Lands and Forestry, and the canoe and kayak club posted on its Facebook page, explaining that the lease “states that the property can only be used for the private activities related to the Maskwa Aquatic Club.

“The lease includes the land for the clubhouse, parking lots, docks, beach and access to the Blue Mountain Trails trailhead,” the post said.

The club put up the signs due to increased use and a lack of social distancing during the pandemic, and after restrictions loosened, it said its signs were vandalized and the chain across its parking lot pulled down.

“While we appreciate the desire for entrance to the Blue Mountain Trails, we are unable to open the access point to the public,” the post said.

Miller’s been working on this issue for more than five years. Back in 2015, he worked with Maskwa and the Halifax Northwest Trails Association to create a trails plan for the area to protected the land from the unofficial trails created over the years.

“The trails that are there were done sort of informally. It’s not the best design and it’s leading to problems with hikers getting hurt or damages to the environment through erosion and trails going into wetlands and other significant ecosystems,” Miller said.

“It’s a real mess in there that needs to be fixed.”

The trails plan created by the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Halifax Northwest Trails Association and Maskwa Aquatic Club in 2015.

But the government wouldn’t let them fix the mess in 2015, due to the wording of Maskwa’s lease, and for years the issue festered until coming to a head last year. Now the province is fixing the issue.

As Miller understands it, the government is amending Maskwa’s lease to shrink the land it’s actually leasing, and it’s protecting the rest of the 40 acres. That should allow the trails plan to be implemented, protecting the land from misuse.

“The other thing is, is this patch of land actually is really important from a conservation perspective,” Miller said.

Foliage at Charlie’s Lake — Photo: Irwin Barrett
Foliage at Charlie’s Lake — Photo: Irwin Barrett

“This particular piece of public land contains some ecosystems that don’t occur elsewhere in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness. So there’s a really nice stand of old growth, red pine forest, which occurs here just sort of along the shores of Charlies Lake. There’s also a talus slope ecosystem, which is basically a slope that’s full of like large loose cobblestones. And those ecosystems contain species that can only live in those ecosystems. So you get plants that only occur there, you get birds that only nest there, and this particular expansion to the protected area contains the best example of a talus slope ecosystem in the wilderness.”

There’s a change in bedrock in this part of the wilderness, too, where there are pockets of deeper soil allowing for older red spruce that’s rare in other parts of the wilderness.

“It really is a bit of a gem and it’s this entryway into the to the northern side of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness, so this decision, it solves a lot of problems,” Miller said.

Charlie’s Lake — Photo: CPAWS
Charlie’s Lake — Photo: CPAWS

Miller also acknowledged that it was Premier Iain Rankin who decided to resolve the issue and direct the minister to protect the land.

Along with this piece of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, the provincial government announced another 60 sites across the province. The province plans to conduct public consultation on 12 of them online for 60 days before officially protecting them.

Here’s the full list:

The following proposed sites will go through consultation:
— Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area (expansion), Halifax Regional Municipality
— Devil’s Jaw Wilderness Area (expansion), Hants County
— Fourchu Coast Wilderness Area (expansion), Richmond County
— Trout Brook Wilderness Area (expansion), Inverness County
— Upper Tantallon Provincial Park, Halifax Regional Municipality
— Port La Tour Provincial Park, Shelburne County
— Carters Beach Provincial Park, Queens County
— Black Duck Cove Provincial Park, Guysborough County
— Cape Jack Provincial Park, Antigonish County
— Cookville Provincial Park, Lunenburg County
— Marble Mountain Provincial Park, Inverness County
— Ross Ferry Provincial Park, Victoria County

The following sites are also intended for protection:
— Douglas Meadow Brook Wilderness Area, Colchester County
— Eighteen Mile Brook Wilderness Area, Queens County
— East River St. Marys Nature Reserve, Guysborough County
— Minard Brook Nature Reserve, Queens County
— Ponhook Lake Nature Reserve, Queens and Lunenburg Counties
— South Branch Meadows Nature Reserve, Colchester County
— Sugar Harbour Islands Nature Reserve, Guysborough County
— Tobacco Island Nature Reserve, Guysborough County
— Andrews Island Provincial Park, Guysborough County
— Belfry Beach Provincial Park, Cape Breton
— Big Pond Beach Provincial Park, Cape Breton
— Blind Bay Provincial Park, Halifax Regional Municipality
— Brule Shore Provincial Park, Colchester County
— False Bay Provincial Park, Richmond County
— Hay Cove Provincial Park, Richmond County
— Herring Cove Provincial Park, Halifax Regional Municipality
— Mackenzie Beach Provincial Park, Pictou County
— Mahoney Beach Provincial Park, Antigonish County
— Merigomish Provincial Park, Pictou County
— Mickey Hill Provincial Park, Annapolis County
— Lower East Chezzetcook Provincial Park, Halifax Regional Municipality
— Paces Lake Provincial Park, Halifax Regional Municipality
— Petit-de-Gras Provincial Park, Richmond County
— Port L’Hebert Provincial Park, Queens County
— Point Michaud Beach Provincial Park, Richmond County
— Port Shoreham Beach Provincial Park, Guysborough County
— Tor Bay Provincial Park, Guysborough County
— Uisge Bàn Falls Provincial Park, Victoria County
— Ainslie Point Provincial Park, Inverness County
— Baker Inlet Provincial Park, Shelburne County
— Blanche Provincial Park, Shelburne County
— Blomidon Lookoff Provincial Park, Kings County
— Bulls Head Provincial Park, Shelburne County
— Cape George Provincial Park, Antigonish County
— Cockscomb Lake Provincial Park, Hants County
— Fundy Provincial Park, Annapolis County
— Gaspereau River Provincial Park, Cape Breton
— Irish Cove Provincial Park, Richmond County
— Kingsburg Beach Provincial Park, Lunenburg County
— MacCormack Provincial Park, Victoria County
— MacCormacks Beach Provincial Park, Halifax Regional Municipality
— MacElmon’s Pond Provincial Park, Colchester County
— New Harbour Provincial Park, Guysborough County
— North Mountain Provincial Park, Annapolis County
— Orangedale Provincial Park, Inverness County
— Pearts Cove Provincial Park, Guysborough County
— Pinehurst Provincial Park, Lunenburg County
— Roseway Beach Provincial Park, Shelburne County
— Trout Brook Provincial Park, Inverness County

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. It’s astonishing and disturbing how many of these sites aren’t yet protected when clearly the pubic believes them to be. We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that happens before there’s a change in government. I’ve little hope the Tories will make protecting parks a key element of their policy platform.

  2. Great news about all of the sites protected, including Blue Mountain. I would have loved to hear from the Friends of Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes in this article. They have been doing the lion’s share of the work in the past few years to secure public access to the area, and work with governments on growing protection in the area.