Below is the vision for the proposed Urban Wilderness Park. We are at a critical point in the process and we expect City Staff's report delivered to Council in mere days. Please read below, share broadly across your social media networks and encourage all to let Council know that Halifax needs and wants this Park in perpetuity! Get involved HERE.
The Urban Wilderness Park: A once in a lifetime opportunity
As of today, there is a once in a lifetime opportunity on the table to create an urban wilderness park in the Purcells Cove Backlands. Thanks to a perfect combination of opportunity, timing, and desire, the potential exists to acquire a truly beautiful part of the world in public ownership for use in perpetuity. But in order to ensure this vision becomes a reality, we must act now. And fast, before the window of opportunity closes.
A large portion of the Purcells Cove Backlands has been highlighted in Halifax’s Green Network Plan as one of the top three areas for urban and near-urban protection. The significance of having a private land owner working with the leading national conservation organization along with the active cooperation and support of many community and special interest groups including the Williams Lake Conservation Company and the Backlands Coalition, should not be overlooked. With a little planning, we can make this vision a reality—an opportunity perfect for a vibrant, bold new Halifax.
Halifax is growing quickly. But it needs to grow with intent and vision to stake its claim as a vibrant, healthy, 21st century city. With a projected increase of 33,000 people in the urban core over the next 15 years, the need to secure—and indeed promote—easy access to nature and green spaces is increasingly critical to maintaining and building a high quality standard of life. As famed urban studies theorist Richard Florida asserts, public lands and green spaces are integral to the new knowledge economy in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. As corporate recruiters have discovered, skilled professionals demand outdoor recreational experiences close to home.
Park land use – past, present and future
The proposed Urban Wilderness Park lands have long been enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts through a number of activities, including, but not limited to: hiking, trail running, swimming, fishing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, guided interpretive walks, and educational programs. Enthusiasts have accessed these lands for years through unmarked trails and access points along Purcells Cove Road and off of Herring Cove Road. Many have relied on local knowledge or the guidance of others to gain access to enjoy the land.
Together we can, and should, broaden access and share this wild and historic outdoor gem widely with as many citizens of the region as possible. In a rare time of consensus, all interested partners are in agreement—long-time users and owners of these lands are not ‘protecting’ their selfish interests. These individuals are the ones leading the charge to share the magic by creating an Urban Wilderness Park.
We are duty bound to unlock the potential and immense benefits of this land for a broad and varied visitor mix and use.
Securing a critical connection to the past, present and our future
These lands tell a rich story about our city and how far we’ve come. The Purcells Cove Backlands are the site of the quarries that provided the source material for Halifax’s historic buildings. The lands are also the site of waterways that served to power an industrial corridor that supported a flour mill, a nail mill, a brewery, and other commercial endeavours including an ice house to store ice harvested from Williams Lake to be exported to southern destinations in the US and the Caribbean. These lands are part of the living fabric of our city’s history and these are stories that need to be shared.
The Purcells Cover Backlands are an unparalleled outdoor classroom. Nature and wildlife enthusiasts, biologists and geologists marvel at the unique and sensitive ecosystem in this location. In a province that boasts the most post-secondary institutions per capita in the country, we are rich with subject matter experts who can share the ecological values of these lands with bright young minds—from universities and colleges as well as the many high schools in the area. In fact, J.L Ilsley High School classes are already walking the short distance to learn about the unique ecosystem as well as how to preserve it.
But we need more of this. Whether it’s monitoring a jackpine and crowberry plant community that is virtually non-existent anywhere else in North America; studying the threatened Common Nighthawk; or examining exposures of granite in remarkable glacial landforms, this can be a training ground for many of our future thought leaders.
These lands are also an active lifeline for our future. The health benefits opportunity the creation of this Urban Wilderness Park represents for Halifax cannot be overstated. We know many people already access these lands year round to hike, skate, ski, snowshoe, paint, take photos, mountain bike, bird watch, etc. The list is long, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Facilitated, programmed, and promoted access to these lands can further support healthy lifestyles that bring proven physical and mental health benefits. Never has this been more important to Halifax and Nova Scotia as we face an aging population and our provincial health scores are amongst the lowest in the country.
Connecting the dots – Connecting the Vision
The current proposal is structured to put the investment, conservation expertise, and programming capabilities in place to not only welcome visitors to a newly established Urban Wilderness Park, but to invite one and all to an inclusive experience.
Despite being less than 5km from central Halifax and currently very easily accessible by foot, bus, bike or car, the proposal outlines a dedicated and maintained access road from Purcells Cove Road and parking lot that can accommodate vehicles of all sizes.
In time, visitors may have the opportunity to explore an interpretive centre built on a portion of land that is set aside for that option to be exercised. Among other things, the centre could introduce the historic, ecological, and recreational values, opportunities, and experiences that await visitors beyond a well-marked trailhead kiosk. The centre may also have the capability to host guest talks and lectures or be the starting point for interpretive excursions.
Accessible pathways from the parking area would welcome everyone from the most seasoned mountain biker, to a new parent with a stroller, or someone in a wheelchair. The accessible pathways lead visitors into the initial frontcountry part of the park before the more energetic choose their own adventure and take off for the backcountry rugged experience. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll down to the lake, or explore the pristine wilderness in search of one of the 40+ species of breeding birds in the area—the opportunities for enjoyment are numerous.
Along the way, visitors would encounter modest wayfinding signage to help identify areas, trails or places of significant interest along with interpretive signage where appropriate (i.e. historical site description/jackpine and crowberry plant community and significance, etc.).
In short, the vision is quite simple: Secure this land in public ownership for future use. Make the experience welcoming. Make it easy to access. Make it a destination of choice for many visitors to enjoy.
It’s the right thing to do
For all the reasons stated above we fundamentally believe the acquisition of these lands in public ownership for future use is the right thing to do. The preservation of ecological values AND activation of the potential and benefit for Halifax residents is a legacy waiting for the right decision.
We know through recently commissioned public opinion research that a large majority, 83 percent, of citizens across the Municipality support the idea of Halifax working with Nature Conservancy Canada to purchase the lands from the Shaw Group for future public use. The top reasons include the need for more parks and recreation space available to the public now and for generations to come, and that this is not only for public good, but also for the environment and for preserving nature and wildlife.
As clearly stated at the April 26, 2016 Council meeting when The Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Shaw Group presented this concept to Council, the opportunity to act on this is limited.
The time is now.
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