Christopher Trider worked as a park planner for 21 years. He designed well-loved coastal parks including MacCormacks Beach, Rainbow Haven, Lawrencetown, Pomquet Beach, and many more.
I have received a number of messages from members of our group asking how to visit and access Owls Head Provincial Park. You deserve an explanation.
In 1975, the province committed to the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System after an exhaustive public consultation process. A Citizen’s Committee, with representatives from 10 local communities, unanimously endorsed the plan that was then approved by the government of the day.
In that agreed-upon plan, “Owls Head” is designated as a Natural Environment Park. Other components of the plan, like Clam Harbour Beach and Taylor Head, were developed.
However, the destination campground at Lake Charlotte, the day-use park, the public access to the interior wilderness areas, and the Natural Environment Park at Owls Head Provincial Park were never funded and built.
What is a Natural Environment Park?
The Parks Act defines a “natural environment park” as a park that incorporates representative natural landscapes in combination with outstanding recreational resources.
What a better Future Could Look Like
The significant interest in Owls Head Provincial Park goes to show how eco-tourism along the Eastern Shore could benefit local communities and tourists while preserving the environment for generations to come.
To safely develop park access at Owls Head Provincial Park, you could integrate an outdoor education component: design it into the trail system or just create a closed-loop with stations at representative points. It could be self-guided, on raised boardwalks, with occasional shelters where you get a view of multiple habitats.
Starting at the perimeter areas where the impact is lowest, experts could develop a series of access areas and lay out a trail network. This would be done after careful site analysis of best location/least impact, following the guidance of biologists familiar with the ecosystems.
Owls Head Provincial Park is a gateway connection to the Wild Islands Tourism Advancement Partnership (WITAP) area. Since only ~5% of Nova Scotia’s coastline is public and protected, this is significant.
There could be a perimeter trail that allowed shoreline access at strategic points. The piping plovers have very specific habitats: sandy beach with small cobble areas for them to hide their eggs. They like the open shore areas, so experts would determine the most likely areas and avoid them either seasonally or altogether. As a former park planner, I’ve carefully dealt with piping plovers on many beaches, like Conrads, Cherry Hill, Pomquet. The key is on-site education and regulation of activities like dogs off-leash, etc.
Sadly, successive governments failed to honour the commitments made in the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System. Our elected officials failed to properly invest in the important tourism and public infrastructure for the Eastern Shore that the park system represents. So we don’t have these trails, access points, or camping opportunities.
The Eastern Shore Seaside Park System, if developed properly, would have rivalled Kejimkujik in terms of camping and wilderness access. Its proximity to the urban centre would have made it accessible to more people. It would have anchored a series of other nature-based public access and development opportunities all along the Eastern shore and lead to complementary private investment.
The losses to the Eastern Shore over the 38 years that this park should have been in place can safely be estimated at $1 Million per year, the annual revenues of Keji. So, government indifference has not only cost the Eastern Shore $38 million, they now threaten to give away one of the key park components to a private developer. So much for history, so much for public consultation, and so much for anything resembling a real commitment to the environment.
Rather than realize a beautiful coastal park for Nova Scotians (on public lands dedicated for that purpose), Premier Rankin (then Minister of Lands and Forestry) secretly delisted it and proposed to sell it to a connected developer for a fraction of its value.
So, I cannot tell you where the public access, interpretive trails, and shoreline access points are for Owls Head Provincial Park, because the government never bothered to design and build them.
Not Too Late
Once Owls Head Provincial Park is sold and developed, its ecological integrity cannot be restored. To me, as a landscape architect, these ridges and their plant communities are a priceless natural heritage landscape that should never be so senselessly destroyed.
But the sale is not final. The Natural Environment Park concept provides the greatest benefit to the greatest number of Nova Scotians and preserves an important ecological resource. The Eastern Shore Seaside Park system park could still be built, if the government is willing to commit to the environment and sustainable economic development.
Stop the sale. Save Owls Head Provincial Park.
Timeline of Promised Protections – A Brief History of Owls Head Provincial Park
Commercial Benefits of Nova Scotia’s Protected Areas (Report by Gardner Pinfold Consultants Inc.)