By Richard Bell
The fate of the management of the Shearwater Flyer trail is sitting in the hands of Minister of Lands and Forests Tony Rushton.
Since building the trail in the early 2000s, the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association (CHPTA) had held the “letter of authority” (LOA) from the province to manage and maintain the Shearwater Flyer trail. This LOA allowed the use of motorized vehicles (ATVs) on the trail.
At its 2018 annual general meeting, the group’s membership voted to ask its Board to request the Minister of Lands and Forests to change the LOA to ban motorized vehicles from the trail.
In a letter sent on April 30, 2019, CHPTA laid out its reasons for asking for a review of the LOA, and informed the Minister that unless the LOA was changed to exclude motorized vehicles, the organization would not renew the LOA when it expired.
In a statement on its website explaining its position, CHPTA cited several concerns starting with the high cost of repairing ATV damages to the trail. And while CHPTA volunteers were logging thousands of hours on trail maintenance, “no local ATV organization has stepped up to help in maintenance or peer enforcement of regulations,” despite CHPTA having “provided several opportunities that were not taken up.” CHPTA also objected to “increasing ATV damage to surrounding lands, including waterways and wetlands that border the trail.” In conclusion, CHPTA found that “shared use of motor vehicles with walkers and bikers is neither desirable nor sustainable.”
On September 2020, the province retained the consulting firm WSP Canada Inc., with HRM financial assistance, to run a “Shearwater Flyer Trail Community Consultation.” WSP filed its final report on April 23. 2021, entitled “Shearwater Flyer on Community Consultation.” But then the government rejected requests to release the report, which did not become public until April 27, 2022 after a FOIPOP request.
WSP went through all the public consultation steps. There was an email survey, phone calls to land owners abutting or near the trail, trailhead pop-ups, direct email and phone communications, and a request for briefs from ATVANS (All Terrain Vehicle Association of Nova Scotia.)
After going through several dozen different breakdowns of the data gathered through these various means, WSP presented the Minister with three choices:
Option 1:Do nothing: “ATV Use Remains as A Permitted Use”
Option 2: More provincial involvement: “ATV Use Remains With Provincial Review of Management and Enforcement of Trail.”
Option 3: End ATV use: “ATV Use is Removed from the Permitted Uses
In its comparisons of these 3 options, WSP noted that with Option 1, “…the majority of the community would not be in support of this option and there would still be significant issues left unmanaged.” For Option 2, WSP concluded that while this option “would likely be palatable to some survey respondents…this option would likely require investment of time and resources on the part of the Province and mediation between LOA holder and ATV users/groups.”
WSP found that Option 3, ending ATV use of the Trail, was the only option that commanded majority support. Here’s the Conclusion for Option 3:
“Conclusion: Although some data findings were inconclusive, based on qualitative and quantitative data collected, the majority of the community is in support of this option, and would prefer for ATV use to be removed from the Trail. The need for increased enforcement would be the primary implication of this option.”
In the discussion of the implications of Option 3, WSP noted that “ATVANS expressed that ATV users would be likely to continue using the Trail even if ATVs were not permitted. Enforcement of new rules would likely be needed and have costs incurred.”