Our proposed expansion of Sandy Lake - Sackville River Regional Park is 1,800 acres of rich ecosystem that stretches between the Hammonds Plains Road and the Sackville River, encompassing the lands and rivers between Sandy, Marsh and Jack Lakes and the Sackville River. It has been recognized for nearly five decades, provincially, municipally and locally, and in multiple reports and studies, to be a unique landscape worth protecting. Community efforts plus some twists of fate have allowed these lands to remain largely in good condition, and other twists of fate have caused protective processes to fall short.
Here are the main reasons to protect the area:
Time is running out... and has been since 1971
Plans were developed for Sandy Lake Regional Park, but not followed through on. Originally proposed as one of the "crown jewel" parks to be created in 1971, planning documents envisioned all of the Sandy Lake area protected along with a section of the Sackville River.
In 2006 the HRM-owned Jack Lake lands together with the Lions Club Beach on Sandy Lake were identified as lands for the Jack Lake Regional Park, which is still to be formally designated. Those lands have their own special attributes and should remain protected, but about 1,800 acres of the critical Sandy Lake to Sackville River corridor remain to be protected. Citizens have worked since the 1970s to protect this area and to finally achieve a comprehensive Sandy Lake - Sackville River Regional Park.
This is good city-building
A fantastic feature that attracts people to Halifax is the close and easy access to nature. In an age where jobs are more portable, quality of life is a city asset that can drive immigration to the city, and keep people here. Sandy Lake is a place that provides nearby nature, where outdoor recreational opportunities abound, for all ages, year round.
Halifax is ready and waiting for a "greenbelt," so we can enjoy the benefits that cities like Ottawa and Toronto have seen from this planning approach. The Halifax Green Network Plan (HGNP) of 2018 identifies the Sandy Lake area as one of the last 3, large greenspaces in urban Halifax. Sandy Lake – Sackville River is a hotspot in need of protection, making it a priority for actualizing the HGNP, and for the OurHRM Alliance.
Focusing development where it is best suited, and protecting greenspaces where merited (ahem, Sandy Lake!) makes for an efficient and attractive city.
Making the Connection
The whole sweep of forests and waterways at Sandy Lake provide an essential area for habitat connectivity and animal movement at the neck of the Chebucto Peninsula. The area has at least 3 important wildlife corridors, both east and west of Sandy and Marsh lakes. These “pinch points” are the few remaining areas for connecting wildlife from the Chebucto Peninsula lands to the mainland – a priority of the Halifax Green Network Plan.
Expanding protection at Sandy Lake and Sackville River is a perfect way to actualize the idea of landscape connectivity. For example, far-ranging endangered Mainland Moose have traditionally inhabited the area, and they continue to be sighted. The Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources considers the proposed Sandy Lake Regional Park as “important mainland moose habitat”. The area needs to stay largely undisturbed to allow passage of moose on and off of the Chebucto Peninsula.
Take it Outside
The area proposed for Sandy Lake - Sackville River Regional Park is already used unofficially by citizens of HRM for recreational purposes through a network of existing trails. Currently, a wide variety of outdoor activities are conducted on these lands, including mountain biking, bird watching, swimming, paddling, fishing, dog-walking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, to name a few. The power lines are popular corridors for ATVs.
More and more, cities (and health authorities) are coming to understand the extensive health benefits of providing people with access to nature. HRM is talking about the benefits of nature, but here's a chance for the city to secure this piece of "green" health infrastructure. Free, easy access to nature can prevent and treat mental and physical health challenges, and make communities more attractive.
The area is also fantastic for education, lending itself well to classroom field trips, environmental education, and hands-on science education. However, these characteristics would be damaged with extensive development around the lakes and rivers.
The Real Deal, Nature-wise
Amazingly, much of the area remains ecologically intact, and is unique. The lakes are bordered by rich drumlins that support magnificent mixed, multi-aged Acadian forest, with significant old-growth stands and striking “pit and mound” topography. The area hosts over 100 species, from the mighty Osprey to the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Loons, otters, frogs and Snapping Turtles inhabit the lakes and the woodlands, and there are document observations of Bobcats, Barred Owls, many warblers, Wood Turtles (nationally Threatened), ermine, Red Fox and Mink. Beautiful spring wildflowers decorate the woods in the spring, and the fall colours paint the woods in majesty in the autumn.
The trio of lakes are fascinating too. Sandy Lake is a deep, “blue lake” (many lakes in this part of Nova Scotia are “tea lakes”). Its "sweet" water chemistry allows certain plants, invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians to thrive, and provides the correct conditions for trout, gaspereaux, eel, and now - after years of absence - Atlantic Salmon! Sandy Lake flows into Marsh Lake, via Peverill's Brook, then on into the Sackville River. Marsh Lake is, appropriately, a marsh-lined lake.
Jack Lake is part of a different sub-watershed, and flows into the Bedford Basin. It has much more of a boreal character.
The Sackville River is making an extraordinary recovery, thanks to a lot of help from the Sackville Rivers Association. The group's extensive habitat restoration work is showing that Atlantic Salmon can return to the waterways in which they used to flourish. All the while, people have kept the elements of the river intact that provide just what is needed by the nationally and provincial listed species at risk Wood Turtle. The Wood Turtle population in the Sackville River is protected by law.
For more of the ecological case for Why Expand Sandy Lake by 1,800 Acres, hear Dr. David Patriquin’s talk: The Natural History of Sandy Lake and Environs: http://goo.gl/ipYCR2
Every Drop Counts
The Sandy Lake watershed is the largest sub-watershed of the Sackville River. Aquatic studies point to deterioration in oxygenation and increased salt loading of Sandy Lake since the 1970's, related to urbanization and some clear-cutting. Significant further settlement within the Sandy Lake watershed would make the lake inhospitable to the migratory fish, reduce wildlife diversity, as well as increase flooding downstream (= Sackville River). An expanded Sandy Lake - Sackville River Regional Park would help to safeguard Bedford from increased flooding by protecting the Sackville River floodplain.
The forests and waterways west and north of Sandy Lake were part of the original park “gem” concept from the 1971 recreation planning study for Halifax. They are all that is left of this essential sub-watershed of the Sackville River. The headwaters of Sandy Lake need to be saved to protect the water quality of Sandy Lake itself, but also so the areas downsteam of the lake - Peverill's Brook, Marsh Lake, and Sackville River - are not put in peril.
Honk If You Love Traffic
If the lands to the west of Sandy Lake were cleared, bull-dozed, dug up, and imposed upon to create a large housing development, Sandy Lake and Sackville River would be degraded, forever. We'd all have time to think about this while sitting in our cars on the traffic-clogged Hammonds Plains Road. Based on the city's cost of servicing study for the area, we conservatively estimate that could mean 4,000 more cars on the Hammonds Plains Road by 2040. This collector road was never designed for this amount of traffic. People, air, water, and wildlife in the area would suffer as a result of this over-loading of Hammonds Plains Road.