Back to the river
For a time, once Highway 102 was built, it was illegal to walk between Bedford and Sackville.
Walter Regan, president of the Sackville Rivers Association (SRA), remembers seeing something quite astonishing while participating in a river cleanup. Two tourists were walking straight through the middle of the Sackville River and carrying bikes over their shoulders. They explained they were trying to get to Halifax and didn’t want to get in trouble for walking over the Sackville-Bedford exchange.
This tourist sighting was, of course, before there was a recreational trail. “When we built the Bedford Sackville Connector Greenway, it was the first time in 40 plus years that you could legally walk between Bedford from Sackville,” Regan says.
The Fort Sackville Walkway (which starts at Scott Manor House in Bedford) and the Bedford Sackville Connector Greenway (which ends at the Fultz House in Sackville) make up the 5.2-kilometre trail that runs along the Sackville River. People can access the trail in various spots in addition to the trailheads, such as Fish Hatchery Park, Bedford Place Mall and Range Park.
Ann MacVicar, chair of the Fort Sackville Foundation, was one of the early leaders pushing to develop the trail. “We had envisioned a trail that went from Scott Manor House through to Fultz House and all the way up to Uniacke House,” she says. “That was our beautiful dream.” This dream was voiced in the 1980s by MacVicar and her fellow Bedford Recreation Commission sub-committee members, as well as Town of Bedford staff. MacVicar recalls the passion she shared with Town of Bedford planners John Malcolm, Donna Davis-Lohnes and Barry Zwicker, recreation director Bob Nauss, former HRM trails specialist Don Ambler, and members of the SRA Richard Peckham and Regan.
The mandate of the SRA, which manages and maintains the trail system, is to protect the Sackville River and its 150-square-kilometre watershed. They accomplish this in many ways, such as running experiential educational programs for elementary students, organizing regular river cleanups and restoration projects, and encouraging the public to use the conservation corridor (the trail).
“It didn’t take us long to realize that the public was disconnected from the Sackville River,” says Regan. “People just didn’t realize what a beautiful river it is.” When individuals have direct experiences with the river, Regan says, they are more driven to protect it. Both Regan and MacVicar emphasize that Peckham, the SRA’s volunteer trail coordinator, was key to seeing the trail become a reality.
“I got involved specifically to help bring people back to the river,” says Peckham. He says the Fort Sackville Walkway (from Scott Manor House to Range Park) was built first, and roughly took 10 years throughout the 1990s. Development of the Bedford Sackville Connector Greenway began roughly in 2000 and officially opened in 2006. “It took a while,” says Peckham. “It was before there was a general motivation in the public for trails.”
“That trail experience was not the only one, but one of the first in HRM,” he adds.
Today, Peckham still volunteers much of his time to the trail. He has been developing trailhead signs as well as interpretive panels that denote the Sackville River watershed and its vibrant ecosystem. “It puts the built environment where we all live and function within the context of the overall watershed,” he says.
Peckham says that trail walkers, runners and bikers—from families and friends, those commuting to work between Bedford and Sackville, dog walkers and moms pushing baby carriages—account for approximately 1,400 weekly trips on the trail, which is almost entirely wheelchair accessible.
Donna Gillroy accounts for at least two of these weekly trips. “We estimate it’s about five kilometres for the time it takes us to walk back and forth between the mall up to Sackville to where the trail ends at the trailer park [at Lynn Court],” she says, urging everyone to “try it!” MacVicar agrees, describing the serenity of her favourite portion of the trail on the Sackville end, past the 102/101 exchange. “In my mind, the beautiful part is when you get away from the traffic and you’re further along the Sackville River, heading up towards the Cobequid Road,” she says. “You really see the calmness of the river. It’s just like you’re in another world.”
Ambler, the HRM trails specialist who helped arrange for municipal funding and facilitated the contract work for the Sackville River Trail, is also a frequent trail user today. “I was on it this morning,” he says, referring to the portion that runs from the Bedford Place Mall, down Union Street, underneath the Bedford Highway to Fish Hatchery Park. “The trail has a lot of social value,” Ambler adds. “I see people interacting on the trail. They stop, they talk, they say ‘hi.’ In addition to the recreational value, it has a lot of community, social value for Bedford and Sackville.”
The number of collaborations that have formed because of the trail is endless, adds Peckham, including with the Bedford Place Mall, which provided funding to improve the portion of the trail on its property; DND, which allowed the use of part of their land; and the Bedford RBC branch, which regularly cleans a portion of the trail. Peckham says a number of SRA volunteers maintain the trail and act as trail monitors and ambassadors. The SRA would love to see more people fill these important roles, as well as come out for cleanups and river restoration events.
The original mandate of developing a trail to go all the way to Uniacke House remains, says Regan. He adds that part of this vision is adding adjoining side trails, and plans are already in the works for developing the Sackville Greenway. “We’re getting huge demand to carry the trail [from Fultz House] up the Little Sackville River…to the Beaver Bank Tracks,” he says. “For the next 10 years until I die, I’ll be working in that section.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.