The Urban Wildland Blue Mountain

The Urban Wildland Blue Mountain

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Contributors:

Mina Atia
Communications Coordinator

Thanks to a collaborative effort spearheaded by Nova Scotia Nature Trust, Halifax’s value proposition just got a little greener.

Last year, the Nature Trust, community groups, the municipality and the province agreed to purchase and protect a large protected urban wildland only minutes away from downtown Halifax.

The Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes area is coined a natural “backyard” due to its rich recreational opportunities and ecological significance. Located between Hammonds Plains, Timberlea and Halifax, Blue Mountain is known for its extensive forests, bogs and wetlands, rocky barrens and hills, sparkling rivers and three lakes.

First initiated by the province’s designation of two large Crown land blocks as Wilderness Area in 2009 and 2015, the urban wildland used to be separated at its heart by a gap of land.

That 560-acre land property called the Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector was recently purchased in December 2020. As a newly protected connector property, it bridges the large gap and ensures more than 5,000 acres of the Wild Blue remains undeveloped.

“This project is part of our larger campaign to double the lands the Nature Trust protects across Nova Scotia by 2023,” says Bonnie Sutherland, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

“It secures the future of one of the largest expanses of urban wilderness in North America.”

In October 2019, Nova Scotia Nature Trust launched a $2.8 million campaign to Save the Wild Blue by connecting the gap. The Blue Mountain Wilderness Connector then became a realized vision after its purchase with the support of the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust and donations from a huge number of community groups and individual donors, plus a contribution of $750,000 from the City of Halifax's Park Reserve Fund.

“It's one thing to donate lands to create wilderness and something else when you have to go and buy them,” says Mayor Mike Savage. “It’s a major commitment that we've made.”

“By working with Nova Scotia Trust, we were able to leverage some money. And I was very happy that we did it because it allows us to have the full area protected.”

The connector land used to be owned by well-established businessmen Robin Wilber and Bill Fenton, whose donation of the land was made through the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program.

“Robin Wilber described this as being the foundation of creating our own Central Park, a landmark renowned not only for the refuge it provides within a major city but also for its widespread usage by locals and travellers,” says Sutherland.

Since the beginning of this project, they imagined how this land would grow and attract visitors decades from now. Wilber imagined Blue Mountain’s century-long development turning into a large and wild green space within our major city. And he’s counting on generations to come appreciating what the Nature Trust was able to accomplish back in 2020.

“Most other cities in North America would kill for this opportunity,” says Raymond Plourde, Senior Wilderness Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.

“Not only does it provide important spaces for citizens’ mental and health benefits, but also from an economic point of view we increasingly see people are interested in moving to our beautiful little part of the world for the easy access to nature.”

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Photo credit: Adam Cornick

With the pandemic driving people to spend more time outdoors, nature has become an important outlet for many. Having access to a naturally intact ecological environment so close to home is a huge factor in our quality of life, and Nova Scotians should consider themselves quite lucky – pandemic or not.

“People have learned or realized that perhaps we have taken for granted, in the past, just how important access to nature-based parks and wilderness areas is to our mental and our physical health,” says Plourde. “That green infrastructure in a city is as important as any other type of infrastructure.”

Blue Mountain is protected for its vast greenspace, as it supports Municipal economic development strategies focused on promoting Halifax as a green and inspiring place to live, work and do business.

“In other words, it's an economic advantage,” says Plourde. “But only if we preserve and keep these large green spaces connected. And Blue Mountain is certainly one of them.”

The response is echoed by Mayor Savage who has been a full supporter of Blue Mountain all along. “The city has put in money so that we can preserve these kinds of spaces for generations to come,” he says.

“Businesses and individuals are more likely to move to a city where they have these kinds of opportunities. So it's an economic as well as an environmental, social and recreational asset.”

The Halifax Chamber continues to support sustainable initiatives to grow the population of the province and the city. The local business community needs skilled talents to lend a hand in prospering our recovering economy. To do so, businesses need to be on board with diverse projects that are pushing for the attractiveness of our communities and welcoming newcomers from across the country as well as internationally.

“Businesses like the idea that we invest in and protect greens,” says Mayor Savage. “We have urban wilderness areas that are very special and not something that everybody has, so it’s really good for the business community as it is for the entire community.”

“This isn't completely altruistic. There are real benefits like the City of Minneapolis did with preserving a lot of green infrastructure and marketing itself to the rest of the US based on that,” says Plourde. “It's really quite remarkable and the kind of thinking and action that Halifax would be well advised to adopt and follow.”

There are two other essential areas connected to the Halifax Public Greenbelt: The Purcell’s Cove Backlands and Sandy Lake. Both of which are being sought out by the Ecology Action Centre for expansion.

“You're going to continue to see us protect green space,” says Mayor Savage. “While we were able to develop in other areas, we keep some areas undeveloped for generations to come.”

“And I think that makes us more than the sum of our parts; it makes us a very special community.” ■

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Aerial photo credit: A for Adventure

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