The provincial government is looking for feedback on the addition of 15 hectares of land to the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lake Wilderness Area.
Starting this week, and until Sept. 27, people can use this online form to weigh in on the potential protection of eight areas, including a parcel between Kearney Lake and Charlie’s Lake, off Saskatoon Drive.
“The focus of this consultation is on the proposed addition of these Crown lands to the existing wilderness area,” the province’s website says.
“The Province is working with HRM and other partners to identify access opportunities to Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area and other lands associated with HRM’s regional park planning. As this work proceeds, more information will be shared in relation to access planning and specific trail projects.”
Nova Scotia announced its intention to protect the land earlier this year.
It’s a popular trailhead for the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, but due to a land agreement between the provincial government and the Maskwa Aquatic Club, it was blocked last year.
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.
Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, has been working for years to create a proper trailhead in the area. 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 told the Examiner earlier this year.
“It’s a real mess in there that needs to be fixed.”
On Thursday, Miller and Caitlin Grady, CPAWS Nova Scotia’s conservation campaigner, took the Examiner for a hike to show off the mess.
As Miller explained, the unofficial trails erode and become wider than they were originally. That means more of the wilderness gets damaged, exposing tree roots and creating multiple, wide paths through the woods.
There are numerous sections of the trail between the Saskatoon Drive trailhead and Charlie’s Lake like this, running up steep slopes or through wet areas.
There are species of trees in this area that aren’t found in the rest of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness, like the red pines that grow out of rocks along the shore of Charlie’s Lake.
The trails plan Miller worked to create with the Halifax Northwest Trails Association would avoid these sensitive areas, and make the trail usable for more people. The system envisioned would start from the Maskwa trailhead and reach all the way into Ash Lake.
There’d be stacked loops of trails, starting with easy front-country gravel walking paths and then getting into more advanced hiking in the back country.
Miller is hopeful that the existing plan will still be applicable once the area is protected.
There’s more information on the other sites Nova Scotia’s proposing to protect here.