Nova Scotia

Ottawa considering creation of national park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes

Halifax and Parks Canada have agreed to examine the possibility of creating a new park in the urban wilderness area under the National Urban Parks Program.

Halifax is one of the few sites identified for the National Urban Parks Program

Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Society have been advocating for the land to become a park since 2018. (Irwin Barrett/Ecology Action Centre)

The Halifax Regional Municipality and Parks Canada have signed an agreement to examine the feasibility of designating a local wilderness area as a national urban park.

On Wednesday, the federal government announced it would be spending up to $130.9 million to create a network of national urban parks across the country. Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes in Halifax is one of a few sites identified for the National Urban Parks Program.

A feasibility study typically assesses the benefits and challenges of a proposal as well as local community and government support. 

The move is welcome news for the Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Society. The community group has been advocating for the land to become a park since 2018.

Former cabinet minister Diana Whalen is a board member with the society. She's optimistic the federal government will help make the park a reality.

"[The municipality] doesn't have a lot of resources, staff and financial, so this is expertise and knowledge to get this moving," she said. "I think the federal government will really speed things up."

Important natural space

Creating the park has been a long-standing goal. The City of Halifax identified the Birch Cove Lakes area as an important natural space worth protecting in 1971. It was also included in the 2006 Regional Plan.

The wilderness area includes 22 lakes and sits between Bayers Lake Business Park, Kingswood, and Tantallon.

Whalen says the proposed park is expected to be up to 10,000 acres when completed.

"Our council, the political members, are very committed to seeing this move forward," she said. "What's been missing is the capacity to plan a park that is 32 kilometres in circumference. It is so much bigger than any of the parks in the city right now."
Looking down the length of Ash Lake on a beautiful late spring day in the Blue Mountain - Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Irwin Barrett)

Whalen says a lot of work lies ahead, like purchasing additional parcels of land, defining boundaries, and forming trailheads.

Coun. Pam Lovelace represents District 13, which includes part of the potential park.

While the agreement between HRM and Parks Canada doesn't guarantee the area will become a national urban park, she's hopeful it will work out.

"This isn't a done deal. We are working together to make this happen," she said. "But I am very optimistic because I feel as though Parks Canada recognizes the value of preserving and conserving this natural ecosystem as a national park."

Positive feedback

Lovelace says she is getting positive feedback from her constituents and beyond.

"Residents from actually across the province have contacted me saying this is exciting," she said. "This isn't just a Halifax park, this is something for all of Nova Scotia and really all of Atlantic Canada."

The municipality says residents can expect extensive public engagement on the feasibility of the urban park in the coming months.

"Regional Council had already requested information about the inclusion of stakeholders in the planning for Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, which is expected to be addressed in an upcoming staff report to Regional Council," municipal spokesperson Brynn Budden said in an email.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada Jonathan Wilkinson said in a release, it's important for all Canadians to have access to green spaces.

"Expanding nature access and protection in our urban spaces is critical in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change," he said. "It also supports better mental wellbeing and equity in urban areas, where the vast majority of Canadians now live."

The National Urban Parks Program will contribute to Canada's commitment to protect 25 per cent of land and inland waters by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Hartai is a reporter and associate producer based out of Halifax. Her favourite stories to tell involve the environment and mental health. Contact her at katie.hartai@cbc.ca.

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