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The Forgotten Park ( 5 Part Series)

  1. Sandy Lake: The way it was meant to be
  2. Why we have to protect all around Sandy Lake
  3. Existing threats to the water quality of Sandy Lake
  4. Diversity of forests/Old growth within proposed Sandy Lake Regional Park
  5. Where to go from here/What you can do

1. Sandy Lake: The way it was meant to be. June 16, 2019

There is a beautiful natural park sitting between the Hammonds Plains Road and Sackville River. The Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Park is a proposed 2800 acre park with 1000 of those acres currently protected as park. We are seeking protection for all currently undeveloped land in the Sandy Lake watershed plus additional lands to protect this outstanding natural area for all time.

Within the current 1000 acres is the Sandy Lake Lions Park that we know today is a real “hidden gem”.   It is rarely mentioned on City maps and is hard to find, as there is no signage leading to the park until you get on Smith’s Road. Some maps call it Jack Lake Regional Park and some call it Sandy Lake Park. No matter the name, it is a place that needs our help.

To those who know about Sandy Lake Lions Park, they know it as an uncrowded swimming spot that has life guards on duty during July and August.  Some walk their dogs along the power grid trails, and sometimes follow one of the trails winding through the woods.  Others go mountain biking right next to the Rifle Range, where various bumps and jumps have been built by bikers going back to the 1980’s. Bird watching, fishing, ice sports, cross-country skiing, and canoeing are also popular Sandy Lake activities.

All these activities have been going on for a long time.  All the different users of the trail should know that their little secret gem right here in Bedford is threatened by development. The West side of Sandy Lake Park is slated for development (circled in brown).

Many have already probably noticed the clear-cut that was done recently in the past few years.  This is the beginning of a potentially huge development, an extension of the current Kingswood subdivision. At the same time, the Jack Lake Wilderness Park, adjoined to Sandy Lake Lions Park is receiving very little protection, and has not been officially designated.  You can’t even find it on a map.  (Try.  There is no map showing the limits of Jack Lake Park.) While development has been a tremendous economic boom in Bedford over the past 10 years, the area around Sandy Lake was singled out for protection going back fifty years…

You may hear talk that it is already being protected (areas in pink).  To a certain extent, this is true but strictly as a theoretical park.  There is almost no signage, park limits or enforcement of any rules to protect the nature and wilderness.  The land that is owned by HRM is fragmented and not actually marked as such in any practical way.  What is marked in yellow is being proposed by the Sandy Lake Conservation Association, as well as the Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Coalition as a bigger, better and unified park.  This park would help protect the natural history of the area, create an effective protected wilderness area for both citizens of HRM and (perhaps most importantly) wildlife.  It would also finally meet goal of the park suggested in the 1970’s and provide a key link to the recent, HRM City Council approved, Green Network Plan.

In the early 1970’s, Halifax City published a report advocating for the protection of seven “priority areas” to be preserved for their recreational potential, ecological richness and community educational value.  The Sandy Lake Regional Park was considered one of the jewels in the crown.  The city was ambitious outlining the park as being “…between the Sackville River and Hammonds Plains Rd., and from the Bedford Rifle Range west towards the Lucasville Road (including buffers and flood plains)”.

The new proposal that has been made (combination of yellow and pink colours on our map, would make a park:

  • that is connected and united within a common boundary
  • protects Sandy, Jack and Marsh Lakes and the Sackville River
  • Follows the guidelines proposed by The Green Network Plan – Sandy Lake would provide an essential wildlife corridor onto the Chebucto Peninsula.

Give access to an urban wilderness multi-use park within the HRM.


2. Sandy Lake: The way it was meant to be. July 29, 2019

With the existence of the current Sandy Lake Lion’s Park and Jack Lake Park, it may seem as though the lake is being effectively protected.  One of the main concerns with the current size of Sandy Lake Lions Park is that it is very small, protecting only one small section of one side of the lake.  The most striking example of this can be seen when looking at the West shore of the lake – one can’t help but notice the clear-cut that happened a number of years ago.

This clear-cut was done by a property developer in 2013 with the eventual goal of building a suburb next to Sandy Lake.

That suburb is scheduled to add homes for 16,000 people and would add up to 8,000 more cars to the Hammonds Plains Road.

This map shows Big Sandy Lake at the centre of the picture.  All the rivers and streams running into Sandy Lake are marked in light blue.  The lake and all the water sources that feed into it are part of the watershed for the Sackville River.  This means that anything polluting the water sources of Sandy Lake will also, eventually, pollute the Sackville River.

The clear-cut is easy to see as the brownish section to the left of Sandy Lake.  It is easy to see how almost all the water sources of Sandy Lake run through the clear- cut.  With all the trees cut in 2013 the soil retention in that area is much weaker than when the trees were there.  Without soil retention, all the sediment will eventually wash into Sandy Lake, suffocating fish, plant and other aquatic plant life.  Some may say that having been cut, the damage has been done and we can allow the development to go ahead.  There is however, still a chance to remediate the damage already done as well as prevent any further damage – increasing the boundaries of the current Sandy Lake Lions Park to protect the land surrounding the lake.  In fact, the clear-cut is already regenerating a full suite of Acadian forest and it is already starting to protect the lakes again.

The proposed enlargement of Sandy Lake Park would also help to maintain a vital wildlife corridor onto the Chebucto Peninsula.  The Recent Green Network Plan has specifically pointed out the vital importance of the undeveloped lands around and including the current Sandy Lake Park.  The yellow lines show wildlife corridors that are currently threatened by development but need to be protected.  One can see that 3 of the 4 suggested corridors pass through lands surrounding Sandy Lake.  Increasing the size of the current Sandy Lake Lions Park is the only way to ensure that these corridors are protected.


3. Existing threats to the water quality of Sandy Lake. January 18, 2020

As can be seen in the map above, most of the surface water flow into Sandy Lake occurs on the west side of the lake, the area that is threatened by development. Currently, there is input road salt, fertilizers and some organics via Johnson’s Brook and feeder streams which enter Sandy Lake at its southwest corner.

Historical measurements show that Sandy Lake was near-pristine in the 1950s and earlier. Recent measurements show big increases in salt loading and reduced oxygenation in deeper water (which is critical for trout and salmon) due to organics and fertilizers. Also, there has been significant input of organic debris at the NW corner of the lake from the clear-cuts.

These types of inputs need to be reduced to protect Sandy Lake for wildlife, and for recreation.  Clearly, significant development on the west side of the lake would be highly deleterious, and could put the lake ‘over the edge’.

4. Diversity of forests / old growth within the propsed Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Park. March 10, 2020

If you have ever walked some of the trails surrounding Sandy Lake, leading to Jack Lake or even trails past the power lines, it becomes very evident how special the forests in this area are.  Not having been clearcut in the past 100 years, the area around Sandy Lake is a “forgotten park”; forgotten by developers, city officials and even the general public.  By sheer luck, this has led to an urban wilderness that has been relatively untouched.

Being forgotten, the trees of Sandy Lake are both very big and also quite diverse.  Just walking in the area to the South of the Sandy Lake parking lot, one can see many diverse trees of considerable size.  The various coloured points are trees including white pine, red spruce, eastern hemlock and red maple (see below).  All the labelled trees have trunks between 30 and 110 cm.   Having trees of such size, age and diversity are all key components corresponding the the definition of the Acadian Forest – the traditional and natural forest type of N.S.  Sadly there are very few sections of Acadian Forest left in N.S.  To have one right here in Bedford is a gift that needs to be protected. 

5. Where to go from here / What you can do

It may be tempting to simply say that you can’t stop progress, that it is not natural to have such an amazing wilderness within the HRM.  This, however, is not the case!  The wilderness, trees, waters and lands of the proposed Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Park are very natural.  So natural that we need to make sure they stay that way!  If you don’t want to see this Old growth Acadian Forest, swimming lakes, or wildlife threatened, you can:

          Tell your friends.  Such a beautiful area needs to be appreciated by all the citizens of HRM.

          Join our Friends of Sandy Lake email list by contacting us through this website:, or message us on Face Book.

          Call your city councillors.  Tell them what you like about Sandy Lake and why you feel it should be protected.

          Help maintain the park.  Make sure you don’t litter.  Maybe pick up any litter you see.  Stay on current trails.

          Enjoy this urban wilderness!!

Why Expand Sandy Lake-Sackville River Regional Park by 1800 acres? January 2020

The Sandy Lake Sackville River Regional Park is currently one thousand acres.  It has been recognized for five decades, provincially and municipally and in multiple reports and studies, to be a special landscape worth protecting, but the final ~1800 acres have never been saved.

In 1971, P.B. Dean identified the Sandy Lake to Sackville River area as one of seven “jewels in the crown” – areas that are “Unique in the Halifax Dartmouth area or important on a regional or provincial scale – priority areas to be protected for their ecological richness and for community education and recreation.” 

In 2006, HRM created Sandy Lake/Jack Lake Regional Park, leaving over 1800 acres of the originally identified lands in private ownership and not protected.  Housing development, on a parallel path, will happen if action is not taken.

The public is working to save this irreplaceable natural area. The city acquired 160 acres in 2015 and has more in mind. The developers who own ~900 of the 1800 acres are willing to trade. Professional planners indicate a trade is very possible.

 Why expand the park by the further 1800 acres?

The area is a long-recognized unique ecological unit. Sandy and Marsh lakes are bordered by rich drumlins that support magnificent mixed, multi-aged Acadian forest with significant old-growth stands, some trees over 200 years old, and striking “pit and mound” topography.  In Nova Scotia less than 1% of forests are old growth. This is one of few remaining large Acadian forest stands near Halifax. A variety of significant natural elements exist all in one place – The 3 lakes are examples of diverse yet related ecologies – one a big marsh, one a deep “blue lake” (Most in this part of NS are “brown lakes”) and the third a boreal forest lake.  The lands and waters west and north of Sandy Lake are species-rich, including rare species including wild Atlantic Salmon and American Eel, and important turtle and moose habitat. Their ecological value remains intact today.   

Watershed protection:  The watershed west of the lakes is slated for housing development.  Instead, we must protect this area where most of the surface waters enter the system. Dirty water already enters there. Damaging organics and salts need to be reversed rather than added to.  To understand why in more detail, refer to the observations at .  Hear the presentation at, and see the attached, Map 1.

The Halifax Green Network Plan (HGNP) identifies Sandy Lake’s rich lands and waters as essential to the welfare of the Sackville River system, one of HRM’s five major natural corridors in the Green Network Plan.  See attached, Map 2.  Also, the area contains at least 3 important wildlife corridors plus “stepping stone” links that connect the mainland to the Chebucto Peninsula which is of primary importance to the Green Network Plan.

Outdoor Recreation: “The objectives for Regional Parks are to preserve significant natural or cultural resources, and to be large enough to support both ecosystem protection and human enjoyment at the same time.” The area proposed for Sandy Lake Sackville River Regional Park is already used unofficially by citizens for multi-recreational purposes through a network of existing trails, for birdwatching, dog-walking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, swimming, paddling, fishing, to name a few. Map 3, attached, shows the integration between Conservation and Recreation. The west side is needed primarily for conservation. The east side is conservation and recreation.

Sandy Lake is a popular location for research for schools, universities and community.  Since the 1970s, aquatic studies point to deterioration in oxygenation and increased salt loading of Sandy Lake related to urbanization and some clearcutting. 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 in the Sackville River flood plain.

What of the disturbed land to the west of Sandy Lake? It is already a young Acadian Forest with vigorous regeneration of the full suite of Acadian forest species that is already protecting the lakes and rivers as the ecological system re-establishes itself. Park planners can make educational use of it as a living example of how Acadian forests recreate themselves.  The three main tributaries flow across this essential land.  By letting the 300 acres heal, they will heal the watershed so it can once again help maintain water quality in the lake for wild Atlantic Salmon, other fishes and wildlife, and will benefit the watershed all the way to the Bedford Basin.

In a nutshell: why we need to protect lands on the west side of Sandy Lake

Posted on January 19, 2019 by admin: Dr. David Patriquin

(These slides are taken from or modified from slides that were in Dr. David Patriquin’s presentation to the SRA on Dec 6, 2018.
View the slides/audio for more explanation of it all:


We already have ~1000 acres protected, most of it on the east side of Sandy Lake. So why did Walter Regan ask at the Dec 6, 2018 presentation:  “Why do we need those lands on the west side?” (I am pretty sure Walter knew the answer.)

The following slides/maps explain it all “in a nutshell”:

A couple of related questions:

(i) OK, but what about the clearcuts of the West Side – Isn’t it already too late?

(ii) OK, but with some development already in place at the upper part of the corridor, isn’t it already too late?

My answers to both questions: NO. I will explain in subsequent posts.

I should have added “The Big Picture”. Here it is:


On Earth Day 2018, Sunday April 22nd, the Sandy Lake Regional Park Coalition was launched with a forest walk led by Bob Guscott

Bob led an enthusiastic group of about 40 on a forest walk at Sandy Lake. Organised by the Sandy Lake Conservation Association,, this event had three purposes: to celebrate Earth Day; to recognise the city’s work to create a Green Network; and to launch the Sandy Lake Regional Park Coalition.

Bob is a keen naturalist and forest ecologist retired from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources after 30 years as a Chief Technician and Forest Health Specialist. He taught participants about the pit and mound topography that is unique to old growth Acadian forests; the significance of the select-cut tree stumps that are 60-80 years old; and why dead trees in wooded areas are not a ‘mess’ to be removed, but are best left as natural habitat for woodland creatures and, just as important, as natural fertilizer for the next generation of trees. Also, just as importantly as well, these dead trees pose no real fire risk. Old growth forests like this are becoming rare in Nova Scotia and desperately need bylaw protection as is done in Slovakia.

Acadian Forest’s Love Affair

We also learned about the recent awareness of the invisible plant connectivity, and life, taking place underground which people cannot see. (Scientists have injected isotopes into a tree and a year later they were found in another tree on the other side of its forested area.) Also, small trees are actually fed by big ones!
Miraculously, a Barred Owl flew over us at one point, and we spent a few minutes just ‘forest-bathing’ – stopping for a while to quietly listen to the sounds around us. One woman commented that she would never look at the woods in the same way again.

Forest “Bathing”

Holding spotted salamander eggs

Bob expressed that forests like this should be available to every child.

City Councillors Steve Craig, Tim Outhit, and Matt Whitman and family members took part, along with community members and representatives from several of the newly formed coalition’s groups. Jenny Lugar of Our HRM Alliance highlighted the eagerness with which we await the city’s Green Network Plan. Clarence Stevens of the Halifax Field Naturalists and the Turtle Patrol added to the day by providing interesting information on birds and reptiles, and he inspired a spring trash pick-up activity during the walk.

The Sandy Lake Conservation Association and Sackville Rivers Association are coordinating efforts to protect the watershed and ecosystems of Sandy Lake, Marsh Lake, Jack Lake, and the Sackville River, in the form of a regional park. We thank Bob Guscott for this truly unforgettable forest walk. Thank you also to the Bedford Lions Club for the beautiful natural beach at Sandy Lake, and to the City of Halifax for the park lands protected to date. And, to Dr. David Patriquin, our sincere thanks for his biological overview of the area.

To date, this coalition is comprised of: SLCA (Sandy Lake Conservation Association), SRA (Sackville Rivers Association), Agropur Cooperative Dairy Bedford Plant, Beechville Lakeside Timberlea Rails to Trails, Canoe/Kayak Nova Scotia, Ecology Action Centre, Five Bridges Wilderness Heritage Trust, Friends of McNabs Island Society, Halifax North West Trails Association, Nova Scotia Bird Society, Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society, St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association, The Halifax Field Naturalists, The Turtle Patrol, WRWEO / The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail, and more are being added.

Thanks to everyone for their support

To see more pictures and science go to Dr. David Patriquin’s website,
and hear David’s talk of Dec 6 2018 for the SRA:

HRM purchase of 160 acres from Armoyan
In 2015 Halifax acquired 160 acres of forested lands from the developer who had cleared the 200 acres. Below is the city’s conceptual map that accompanied the recommendation from city staff.


Excerpts from Our HRM Alliance blog 2015


Response of Sandy Lake Conservation Association (SLCA) to:

Old Growth Forest Constraint Mapping

A mandate of the Sandy Lake watershed study is to address policy E-17.  Item E-17-k states “identify areas that are suitable and not suitable for development”. 

Upon reviewing the final copy of the study, it was alarming to learn that small lot residential development was recommended on the southern peninsula of Sandy Lake; the same southern peninsula that is stated in the study as having a mature hemlock forest.

Given that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) acknowledges that old growth forest in Nova Scotia is rare, and is actively attempting to protect it, recommending this area as suitable for development is extremely misguided.

To provide validity on said point, arrangements were made to have a DNR employee collect data using a sampling protocol designed specifically to quantify old forest in Nova Scotia. Three sample plots were collected on October 3, 2014.

The data was reviewed by the DNR manager of research and planning.  He stated these are two high quality old growth stands from the “SH2 Hemlock-White pine/Sarsaparilla” vegetation type. Hemlock is the longest lived species in the province, and the longevity of hemlock and pine in this community supports development of old growth forests that can persist for long periods through gap replacement processes that maintain unevenaged  conditions. The old forest score of 87 out of a possible 100, and age >175 years would make these one of the higher scoring old growth stands in the Province. If it occurred on Crown Land it would fall under DNR’s old forest policy, and would likely be reserved.) who indicated a score of 87 rated high as old growth forest.

HRM should not accept the final draft as submitted by AECOM without accurately addressing item E-17-k in the context of old growth forest.  Old growth forest should not be suitable for development.  I recommend mapstand H4470637  387 and H4470636  182 be deemed a Type 1 constraint similar to AECOM’s old growth constraint designation for the Birch Cove Lake watershed study. A more thorough review of other forested land in the Sandy Lake watershed using a geographical information system and DNR’s Old Forest Policy 2012 to identify additional old growth forest area is required.