There are two Sandy Lakes on Hammonds Plains Road, HRM. The one in Glen Arbor is sometimes called “Little Sandy Lake”, but this website is about the one nearer the basin that is sometimes called either “Big Sandy Lake” or “Sandy Lake, Bedford”. It is a part of the Sackville River watershed and is a headwater for Peverill’s Brook and ultimately the Bedford Basin.

The current organization that is working to protect Sandy Lake is the Sandy Lake Conservation Association, or SLCA.  In the past, the Sandy Lake Watershed Association protected the lake, and prior to that there was the Sandy Lake Resident’s Association, itself preceded by the Sandy Lake Ratepayers Association. These groups handled multiple threats to Sandy Lake’s fragile ecosystem including the Farmer’s Dairy effluent risk and the evolution of the Bedford Lions Beach on the eastern shore of the lake. Residents of the area have been looking out for Sandy Lake’s welfare for at least 40 years.

Some 30 years ago Sandy Lake was one of 7 proposed regional parks. However, for the lake region to become a regional park the County, Bedford, Dartmouth and Halifax all had to agree on that designation. This was prior to Amalgamation and Sandy Lake was in the County of Halifax not part of Bedford.  Farmers Dairy was looking for a site to build a dairy near the city and a large property along the western shore of Sandy Lake which suited their needs (proximity to the city plus lake water) came up for sale. At the same time, a local resident offered to give 500 acres at the end of the lake to the municipality for the park, if the park were named after her deceased husband. We understand that the County Warden chose to approve the dairy to increase county taxes and declined the land offer for the park.

There were even fewer regulations to protect lakes and waterways back then, and people in general were unaware of the consequences of some of their activities.  The dairy clear cut 50 acres and in-filled a roadway over the main lake feeder stream (you drive over it going to the gate) which caused such runoff that the lake was muddy brown for two years. They planned on dumping their milk effluent into the lake as well. So the Sandy Lake Ratepayers Association was formed, hired consultants and worked with the press and politicians to finally get the plan to pump milk effluent into the lake dropped in favour of the holding ponds you see on your left as you drive to the dairy gate. Those gave off a terrible smell for years until the dairy was required to deal with it.

The dairy impact on the lake was such a shock that the Association began to work with the Town of Bedford (by then the lake area was part of Bedford) to ensure that such an action could never happen again. The Bedford Mayor, Francine Cossman, was marvellous and totally onside.  After much wrangling to no avail with the Province about parks, waterways and preservation, Mayor Cossman and the Association hit upon a device for protecting the lake—no new development unless one owned 5 acres on a publically serviced road. Of course land assembly started up as developers eyed the lake, but nobody put a road in. This regulation is still protecting the lake. Over the next few years a move began to preserve the lakeshore that remained protected by this bylaw, and eventually negotiations with the city and the Province resulted in parts of the shore being bought for the proposed park.

The next issue arose from a Lions Club desire to mark the millennium with a public project. The original proposed park plan (from decades previously) had included a small beach park where the Lions beach park now exists. The Lions proposed a roadway into that area, a parking lot and a facilities building. Surveys of the Bedford and Hammonds Plains communities for recreational preferences all suggested that people wanted an indoor year-round “swimming opportunity” and hiking trails. There was $500,000 donated by the city and province and the Lions for the recreational development and, despite the community’s and the Association’s efforts to establish trails for walking, the beach plan was chosen. There were numerous struggles over that design – grades, drainage and backfilling plans had to be adjusted so that there would be no washouts and flooding. The plan to remove the trees and the natural shore berm and add tons of sand to make a bigger beach, which would have destroyed a protected fish breeding area, was quashed.  Planners proposed flush toilets which would have required a football-sized disposal field, and they suggested cutting down much of the old growth Acadian forest along the shore to install the field. The Association was able to make the case for the “Trailhead” peat toilets used by Parks Canada and the US National Parks Service which were installed and have always worked well.  The trees were saved, the ecosystem and the beauty of the area were preserved.

Somewhere in the midst of all the meetings and activities around the beach project some in the Association realized that there would always be plans afoot that could threaten the lake, and that, in the end, it was the quality of the water that had to be protected. So the Sandy Lake Watershed Association was started, and for several years there was regular water testing carried out by the Bedford Water Advisory Committee…that was eventually cut from the city’s budget. We understand the will to continue to spend the ~$3,500.00 a year for testing all lakes in HRM was lost somehow, so not only Sandy Lake suffered from that cut.

Sandy Lake is a small lake with a more fragile ecosystem than most.  It takes 4 to 6 months for the lake to “flush” itself, for example, (depending on the research study referenced) so it is vulnerable to pollutant build-up.  It also has nesting loons (loons are on the bottom rung, so to speak, of the endangered species list) which are very vulnerable to speed boat travel and to changes in water acidity.  Old growth forest can be found in areas around the lake. Wildlife such as deer, mink, ermine, beavers and more live along its banks. Nesting pairs of Osprey and Barred Owls live near the lake, and it is alive with aquatic life.

As the Lion’s Park Beach progressed, the organization managed to eliminate a planned boat launch facility, and that helped to reduce the number of motorized water craft using the lake and thereby protected the sensitive wildlife. There was a year-long series of presentations and public meetings with the Coast Guard to try and have Sandy Lake stipulated as a motorized water craft-free lake.  Sandy Lake, Kearney Lake and Mic Mac Lake were part of the presentation roster to create protected lakes for paddlers use.  At the end of the year, the Coast Guard was to make a recommendation to Provincial cabinet. Their cabinet recommendation would then go to the federal cabinet for consideration.  The Association was advised that there was no guarantee that a provincial approval would pass at the federal level. When the Coast Guard recommendations finally came out it was a shock to find that Sandy Lake wasn’t mentioned at all. The response to questioning was that they could not recommend banning motorized watercraft on a waterway that didn’t have a problem yet. When the park plan went on the back burner, Sandy Lake remained vulnerable.

There was once a Department of Fisheries and Oceans study on the lake to test methods for balancing Ph—at a time when the entire southern end of the province was losing fish because of acid rain from the US northeast. Scientists dumped industrial levels of limestone into the lake to adjust the Ph, but it had no effect. The lake was balanced naturally because large springs filling the lake from the bottom flow through limestone deposits and naturally balance the Ph, so after a year and a half the study was halted. Sandy Lake is unique in this way, and thanks to this and to the efforts over the years to ward off threats to the lake’s health, Sandy Lake’s water quality is very good. Thus allowing for the abundance of natural life in and around it.

To protect this water and its watershed is why we established the Sandy Lake Conservation Association.  We had believed that a Regional Park was still the long term plan. We were unaware of the 2006 change at City Hall to designate this area as a potential Urban Settlement area.  Apparently councillors in City Hall were also unaware of the history and fragility of Sandy Lake, or of the long term plan to create a regional park there.  These facts came to light when we heard tree cutting machines stripping the 200 acre plot that includes the far tip of the lake. We learned a lot.  There are huge loopholes in the land development system that allow developers to clear cut huge properties without having either a forestry permit or a HRM application for housing approved.

On August 22, 2013, with no options left, we engaged the media to try to stop the cutting of trees nearest the lake because that area had the most potential to be included in or linked to a regional park around Sandy Lake.  HRM’s development process requires that 10% of the value of developed lands must go to parkland, and this area had prime park land potential.  On Friday August 23, 2013 the developers agreed to stop cutting at least temporarily.  The painful irony is that these 200 acres were once part of the 500 acre gift that had been offered for the park.

clearcut Sandy Lake clear-cut in progress 2013, as seen from Lions’ Club Beach 

Since then we have worked hard to raise awareness so that Sandy Lake, Jack Lake and March Lake, this beautiful trio of lakes so close to Bedford, Sackville and Hammonds Plains, can be protected and serve the many important functions of such a beautiful natural area so close to the city’s major growth areas. The city has reopened this consideration and has purchased from this same developer 160 uncleared acres near Marsh Lake and Sandy Lake. We are very encouraged by this and we respectfully request further acquisitions of land around Sandy Lake before future development can threaten the recreational possibilities and the natural lake. Once an area is paved it can never go back.

With development coming ever nearer to the lakes, we have reached a crossroads. We welcome the city’s sharing in the long term vision that the residents have worked so hard and long to bring to fruition, for the benefit of the lakes and accompanying wildlife, to protect the Sackville River’s watershed, to become part of the RP+5’s goal for a Green Network, and to provide a substantial park for public access to nature and recreation for this growing part of the city.

To support our efforts to protect this lake please also sign up on our SLCA website comments section.