40 Years of Work and So Close to the Goal

40 years.

Bedford residents have worked for 40 years on getting Sandy Lake protected—9 years longer than I have been alive. Heck, even the Great Pyramid only took 20 years to build. These people have perseverance.

And on Tuesday August 4th, Council almost decided to protect 160 acres of the area’s best land, a place that looks like this:

But the decision was delayed by a month. Two Councillors wanted assurance the deal—which will transfer land to the city to resolve park fees owed by the landowner—won’t direct funds away from parks in the their districts. The Councillors, I am told, will feel satisfied their parks are well taken care of.

And after 40 years, we certainly hope they will vote to protect this land. Council must act quickly to acquire not only these lots, but the entire lands necessary to complete this park. Already the community has worked too long for this.

As part of the Hike the Greenbelt project, residents from around the municipality hiked, swam and canoed Sandy Lake just days before the Council vote. We paddled a river right up to the edge of the area that stands to be protected and saw first hand how spectacular this place is.

A Long Series of Forehead Slaps

Decades of struggle woulnd’t have been necessary if Sandy Lake had been made a park in the 1970’s, as Bedford Council had planned to do. But Farmers Dairy asked if they could use a small piece of the land for a factory, and the Council—hungry for tax revenue—arranged to have the entire park idea shelved.

Here’s a quick summary of the outrages since then:

  • In the late 70’s, Farmers Dairy plans to build a effluent pipe into Sandy Lake. The proposal is narrowly defeated.
  • In the 80’s and early 90’s the entire area is at risk of being developed. Bedford Council saves the wilderness by restricting development to existing serviced roads.
  • Later in the 90’s, the community thinks it has won when Sandy Lake is put on a list of parks-to-be created.
  • Then bam, the 2006 Regional Plan hits, and the land is designated “urban settlement.” An area that should have been cheap to acquire is suddenly expensive due to that potential development value. In effect, the city made the land more expensive for itself.
  • In 2013, Armco Inc, a development firm, is told their land near Sandy Lake will not be considered for development for at least 10 years. They then clearcut an enormous section of it, including old-growth, hemlock forest.

Amazingly, after this onslaught, there remains a huge, beautiful wilderness situated right between Sackville and Bedford, in one of the fastest growing areas of the city. If it is expensive to acquire now, it will only become more expensive in the future. Let’s not wait another 4 decades.

Happily, the Halifax Green Network Plan may be just the opportunity we need to finish the job. The plan will identify areas of strategic recreation-value for the whole region. We are confident the worth of Sandy Lake will be abundantly clear.

But when Council considers whether it is worth the funds to acquire these lands, they should not make the decision based solely on the value of the park. We must also recognize all those years of hard work from the community.

Imagine what kind of city we would live in if all citizens were willing to put decades of effort towards public goals. Volunteer labour should be taken seriously and rewarded, because we need more of it.

If a community is so inspired by a place to work so long and hard to protect it, we owe it to them—and to ourselves—to make it a reality. Let’s keep Sandy Lake a place we can swim for centuries.

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