Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia photographer fights to keep park gates open year-round

Phil Church started a petition to keep the gates of Nova Scotia's parks open year round. He says many people would use the parks if they were more accessible outside of the four-month operational season.

Though parks are technically open, facilities and roads are not maintained from Oct-May

Phil Church and his bichon frise, Dodo. (Phil Church/Keltic Devil Photography)

Most days, Phil Church wakes up before sunrise and goes exploring in one of Nova Scotia's parks.

A full-time photographer, he has spent the last year living out of his van and travelling the province with his dog. 

Church has been an avid hiker for years. He says he has always been frustrated by provincial parks closing their gates from early October to late May.

Last month, Church started a petition to keep gates and facilities open year-round in federal and provincial parks in the province.

"We live in an unbelievably stunning place," Church said. "The amount of diversity we have here is incredible … and we have four full seasons of it. So we shouldn't just be encouraging people to use it in one season."

Nova Scotia's 129 provincial parks are technically open year-round. But facilities are not maintained, roads are not plowed, and gates are closed outside of normal operating times, meaning a much longer walk from the road to the beaches or trails.

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Church and his dog live in his Ford campervan and explore the province's parks by day. (Phil Church/Keltic Devil Photography)

The petition has now reached more than 1,000 signatures.

In the description, Church mentions how being outdoors can benefit mental and physical health. He has spoken to his MLA, Melissa Sheehy-Richard, and plans to keep advocating for the cause. 

"The [parks] have been busier over the last couple of years," he said. "And it's a good thing, more and more people are getting out."

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said the department hires more than 220 seasonal workers to maintain the parks from May to October, but "sites are not staffed or maintained during the off season."

"Gates are closed to prevent weather-related damage and vandalism. Some infrastructure, like washrooms and parking lots, was not designed for winter use."

The spokesperson said there are no plans to open park gates or provide plowing, washroom access, garbage collection or other maintenance during the winter months.

Church and Dodo visit national and provincial parks year-round. (Phil Church/Keltic Devil Photography)

Open, but not accessible

Church said parks may be open in winter, they are inaccessible for many. 

"I think a lot of people just assume that the parks are closed so they can't use them," he said. "There's places … like Taylor Head [provincial park], you're talking about an extra five kilometres to get to the trail."

As for Nova Scotia's three national parks, they're open year-round, but services vary.

In Kejimkujik National Park, the main roads are plowed but gravel roads are gated.

The trails remain open in the winter, but camping isn't allowed. Public washrooms are closed. Pit privies are open but aren't stocked or maintained. 

"Parks Canada aligns its seasonal hours of operation, visitor services and facilities to reflect patterns of visitation and visitor expectations," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"Parks Canada administered sites monitor the use of their services on a regular basis and adjust as necessary to meet the needs of the public."

Church noted how the promotion of winter activities in Nova Scotia's provincial and national parks could boost tourism in rural areas. 

"You go to take the family to Blomidon [provincial park] on a winter day, you're going to stop in Wolfville and grab a coffee or hot chocolate or that sort of thing.

"People who aren't from Nova Scotia have this kind of thing in their head that we're basically a summertime lobster roll kind of province when really, we have so much opportunity."