Owls Head, once considered for controversial golf course, designated as provincial park
Opponents took fight against proposed golf course development all the way to N.S. Supreme Court
Owls Head, a pristine piece of land along the Eastern Shore, was announced as Nova Scotia's newest provincial park Tuesday, more than three years after a decision to remove it from a list of Crown properties awaiting legal protection touched off protests and a Supreme Court challenge.
The provincial government said 266 hectares of land in Little Harbour, which had been the site of a controversial plan to develop a golf course, will be managed by the province as a publicly accessible natural park reserve.
"The designation of this land as a provincial park is a clear indication of our promise to protect more land in Nova Scotia," said Tory Rushton, the province's minister of natural resources and renewables, in a news release.
"We are committed to transparency and giving the public an opportunity to provide input on how public lands are used, managed and protected."
In November 2021, the development company behind the golf course proposal, Lighthouse Links, withdrew a letter of offer it signed with the province two years earlier.
The proposal was to develop up to three golf courses, along with tourist accommodations and a possible housing development on the property.
Although the land was commonly known as Owls Head provincial park, it had never officially been designated as a park.
Globally rare ecosystem
The land is home to what has been flagged as a globally rare ecosystem.
"I'm very pleased and I think it's a step in the right direction," said Bob Bancroft, a biologist who sought a judicial review of the former Liberal government's decision to delist Owls Head from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan.
"There were a lot of supporters to save Owls Head."
In March 2019, after years of lobbying by Lighthouse Links, the Treasury Board quietly removed the designation. The decision to delist Owls Head was first reported by CBC News in late 2019.
In July 2021, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge dismissed the application for a judicial review, noting the potential sale of the land was not a done deal.
In her decision, Justice Christa M. Brothers acknowledged the public outrage associated with delisting the property, but said the court could not intervene because the action — as well as cabinet's decision to enter into the letter of offer with prospective developers — was within the government's lawful authority.
More court work
The province said in a news release that some surveying and administrative work are needed before the park designation, which includes three islands, is complete.
Bancroft said he hopes lessons will be learned in the process.
"I hope that all the underlying measures of how this all happened are dealt with," said the former provincial biologist. "We need to protect this from happening again."
The Crown lands include a variety of coastal barrens and wetlands. Owls Head is home to the piping plover and the barn swallow, two species at risk.
"This corrects the wrong and ensures that the coastal ecosystems and wildlife will be protected," said Chris Miller, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Nova Scotia.
"It ensures that the coastal ecosystems and wildlife will be protected and guarantees that this very special place will remain in public ownership."
The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said while the public will have access to the park, there will be no services such as garbage collection, or facilities like washrooms or parking areas.
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