GUYSBOROUGH – Most of N.S.’s protected wilderness areas do not allow ATVs, but an exception is being made for the trail system around Ogden Round Lake Wilderness Area near Guysborough.
Amendments to the Wilderness Areas Protection Act introduced on Oct. 1 give authority for limited use of off-highway vehicles on two long-established connector trails. If passed, these amendments will allow the environment minister to authorize limited off-highway vehicle use on the Grand Lake-Ross Lake Connector Trail in Ogden Round Lake Wilderness Area and on the Dominique Meadow Brook – Fountain Lake Connector Trail in Portapique River Wilderness Area, Cumberland and Colchester counties.
Guysborough–Eastern Shore–Tracadie MLA and Minister of Transportation Lloyd Hines told The Journal he believes local communities were not properly consulted about the original designation of Wilderness Protected Areas back in the mid-1990s.
“I remember very well a February night when the consultation for Guysborough was held in Port Hawkesbury and myself (then as municipal councillor) and I believe Councillor Vernon Pitts travelled to Port Hawkesbury in an ice storm to express our opinion about the huge tract of land that was being designated in the municipality at the time.” He said they were joined by close to 100 MODG residents who also risked their safety in bad weather to have their voices heard.
“That protest...fell on deaf ears,” he said.
The original legislation did not provide for ministerial discretion to provide any kind of access, said Hines.
“A group of people in the area didn’t give up,” he said. “They worked through successive governments. I was able -- after several years working with various environment ministers -- to get them to agree to open up the legislation to permit access through Ogden Round Lake.”
He said that trail area had long been use by ATVs.
“I do believe there are special parts of Nova Scotia that need to be preserved,” said Hines. “Our government wanted to get to 12 per cent of our land mass being protected. When I was Minister of Natural Resources we actually got to 12 per cent but went further with a target of 13 per cent and now we’re closing in on that target,”
With that achievement, he said Nova Scotia will have the largest percentage of protected land in Canada.
The amended legislation stipulates that before designating a connector trail, the minister must enter a trail management agreement with an organization and ensure certain conditions are met to protect the environment and trail users.
The amendments will also allow parking lots to be developed within the boundary of a wilderness area. Currently, people are using parking areas at some locations that aren’t allowed.
Lands designated as protected since that first set in the mid-1990s are already subject to a provision for ministerial discretion on access, such as for ATV trails.
“We are committed to protecting our designated wilderness areas,” said Gordon Wilson, minister of Environment, in a press release. “These amendments will allow us to consider limited off-highway vehicle use on two connector trails and help us ensure that people enjoying wilderness areas are parking in places that are safe and do not damage the features we are seeking to protect.”
These amendments will not change the level of protection offered to designated wilderness areas. All vehicle use in wilderness areas will still need to be specifically authorized and activities that may damage biodiversity in these areas are still prohibited.
There are already about 120 kilometres of designated off-highway vehicle connector trails within wilderness areas.