Long Lake Provincial Park, Halifax, NS, Canada | CruiseBe
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Long Lake Provincial Park

Natural sights
nature, park, landmark

Long Lake Provincial Park is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was established in 1980 by then Premier John Buchanan when Halifax's water supply was shifted from the Spruce Hill/Long Lake/Chain Lakes watershed to the Pockwock Lake watershed near Hammonds Plains. The park itself constitutes the bulk of these former watershed lands - about 2100 hectares. Other portions were deeded to the municipality of Halifax, and the area around the Chain Lakes is still administered by the Halifax Regional Water Commission, since the Chain Lakes are still the official back-up water supply for the city. Long Lake Provincial Park was formally established by Order in Council (OIC) 84-1189 on October 9, 1984. Application altered (by the withdrawal of 1.23 hectares) by OIC 93-364 on April 14, 1993.


Long Lake is a provincial park controlled by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of the Government of Nova Scotia. However, the park has never had a management plan and so is relatively unknown as a public space, despite its being less than 10 minutes drive from downtown Halifax, and its large size (rivalling that of the peninsula of Halifax). In 2003, the Department of Natural Resources entered into consultation with the Long Lake Provincial Park Association on the development of a management plan. As of November 2009 it is unclear when, if ever, the management plan will be completed. On behalf of Bicycle Nova Scotia and the mountain bike community in general Randy Gray submitted a Mountain Biking Management Plan to be included either in the main body or as an appendix to the Management Plan. This was submitted after about 6 years of involvement and consultation with the Long Lake Park Association's Board of Directors and the Long Lake Park Association's Management Plan Committee. It can be read here: Mountain Bike Management Plan Submission. It was never discussed by the Long Lake Provincial Park Association after submission. It was rejected by the Department of Natural Resources.

Long Lake has been designated by DNR as a "conservation-oriented" provincial park and can be viewed as an "urban wilderness", even though much of its area has been altered by previous human activities and uses. It is anticipated that there will be no campgrounds or other high-impact projects planned for the park in the foreseeable future. This is in contrast to an aborted early plan to develop a resort area and artificial beach on the south side of Long Lake, which resulted in a wide roadbed stretching from halfway between Long Lake and the intersection of Old Sambro Rd. and Leblin Drive, to within about 183 meters of the lake itself. Extensive erosion along this roadbed has resulted in a strip of exposed bedrock which has been subsequently dubbed the "scar road" and is easily visible from the air. Most of the large southern portion of the park is expected to be designated as a "conservation zone" in the final version of the development plan, along with selected areas of the deciduous and mixed forest in the more heavily used northern region discussed above.

Location and access points

Long Lake Provincial Park is bordered by the Old Sambro Road on the east, Northwest Arm Drive on the NE, Watershed Commission lands bisected by the St. Margaret's Bay Rd. on the north, (the only entrance to the park which currently has a parking lot is located off this road, close to its intersection with the Prospect Rd.) and Prospect Road on the west. It can be viewed from:

  • the Northwest Arm Drive between the Spryfield exit on the St. Margeret's Bay Rd., and the Drive's termination on the Old Sambro Rd.,
  • the Old Sambro Rd. between the Northwest Arm Drive and its intersection with Leblin Drive and
  • from the Prospect Road, for a brief section just beyond Exhibition Park.

About 20 entrances to the park can be identified, including:

  • several along the St. Margaret's Bay Rd. (including from the parking lot near the Prospect Rd. exit),
  • 4 or 5 off the Northwest Arm Drive, most notably the old road across from Cowie Hill subdivision, which goes past Withrod Lake to some of the more popular swimming spots on Long Lake,
  • two paths going in opposite directions from the grassy area at the dam at the end of Dentith Rd.,
  • The Old Prospect Rd., from the Old Sambro Rd. to Goodwood - good access at each end,
  • the other Goodwood entrance, whose path leads to Harrietsfield, past the Spruce Hill Lake. Actually getting to Harrietsfield via this pathway is not easy because most access to Harrietsfield is blocked by private property.
  • the road which goes from Harrietsfield to the Spruce Hill Lake dam
  • 2 or 3 paths which terminate on private property in Harrietsfield, and
  • an old road going from the Exhibition Park to the Pipeline Trail. (see below), and

Although there is room along the roadside at a few of the more frequently used entrances for 2 to 4 vehicles, the only parking lot is currently the one built by the Water Commission. The management plan proposes another parking lot be built off the Old Sambro Rd, and there is discussion with the city to use a portion of the Exhibition Park lands as a parking lot mainly for the park, with concomitant restoration of the major park access point there as well.

The northern portion of Long Lake Provincial Park (north of Long Lake itself) and the adjacent Water Commission lands between the park's boundaries and the St. Margaret's Bay Rd. is home to a network of narrow single-track mountain bike trails that is noteworthy for its challenging terrain. Many of the trails are organized into a series of loops (approximately 9.5 kilometers of trail) that can be ridden a number of ways. Most trails are unmarked. Although this area of the park represents less than 5% of its total area, it and an adjacent narrow strip of land at the northwest end of the park (which contains a small waterfall and a popular swimming spot) receives over 90% of the park's total usage.

Park usage

The park is used by a number of overlapping groups, including:

  • Mountain bikers, who developed most of the trail system between 1994 and 1999. However, the number of bikers has declined significantly since about 2001, when trail systems began to be created elsewhere in the area. Still, as of fall 2008, there are a significant number of mountain bikers in the park - but almost exclusively in the small northernmost portion discussed above.
  • Hikers: folks simply out for a walk in the woods. Most hikers again use this same small portion of the park, but some make use of the older network of old roads and trails in the much larger southern portion.
  • Dog walkers. Despite a regulation prohibiting un-leashed dog walking in provincial parks, Long Lake Provincial Park has become a mecca for off-leash dog walkers in the Halifax area. The vast majority of them use the area within a 20 minute walk of the park's only parking lot, mentioned above.
  • Swimmers: the lake is deep, the water quality is excellent overall, and there are a number of excellent spots for swimming. As with other lakes in the region, the water is warm enough for swimming from June through September. Virtually all the swimming in the lake takes place in the small area discussed above (i.e. the portion north of Long Lake), plus there is a good swimming area just west of where a small stream known for its scenic waterfall enters the lake, near the southwest end. There is very limited trail access to the lake outside of this area, but for those adventurous enough two small sandy beaches offer secluded swimming on the south side. At the other end of the park, there is swimming spot on the earthen dam at the north end of Pine Hill Lake, where Harrietsfield children swim.
  • Cross-country skiers: most of these use the trails and old roads just north of Long Lake.
  • Geocaching: an active and long-established geocaching tradition exists in the Halifax region, and the area within the park is particularly popular, perhaps due to the varied terrain within park boundaries,
  • fishers: the lake is not stocked, but it is reported that there is still good fishing from a few spots on the lake,
  • boaters in kayaks and canoes. This is not as popular an activity as it could be, due to the scarcity of boat-launching places. Use of motorized vehicles of any kinds, including boats, is prohibited within park boundaries, as with other provincial parks in Nova Scotia, so park planners have not made provisions for an easy place to launch boats, out of concern that power boats might also be launched.
  • Birdwatchers and other naturalists: the park's terrain is quite variable and there are many excellent habitats for bird watching. Access to many of the best habitats for birds is still limited, but this is seldom a barrier to the most eager of birders.
  • Photography: The park offers a great wealth of opportunities for scenic and natural history photography, from scenic vistas around the lakes, to the many large glacial erratics (boulders dropped by the melting glaciers as they retreated, about 14,000 years ago), beautiful old trees, and a surprisingly wide variety of flora and fauna.
  • Groups on organized field outings: Youth groups of various kinds, hiking clubs, cross-country runners, field naturalists, hiking associations, school groups and others often make use of the park's extensive trail system for outings of both the educational and recreational kinds.

In addition to the legal activities detailed above, illegal park uses include:

  • Off-road vehicles: as discussed elsewhere, this activity occurs exclusively in the large northern portion of the park, and has caused considerable environmental harm, especially to wetlands.
  • Hunting: This is not a serious problem in the park, fortunately, but it does occur nevertheless. Mostly, deer are the target of illegal hunting in the area.
  • Trapping: Trap lines were occasionally reported in the park until around the year 2000, but not since then.
  • Camping and squatting: This is a periodic problem, especially when trees are cut for firewood and for use in shelter and "camp" building. No camping is permitted within park boundaries, and no camp grounds are included in the current management plan.
  • Party use, usually by youth: this is a serious problem because of the fire hazard involved, and because frequently-used party spots become trampled clearings which both encourage future use and would take decades to recover if left alone. Litter and potential wildlife disturbance are also factors to consider, plus the safety hazards associated with parties in semi-remote areas involving extensive alcohol usage. The two largest islands in Long Lake and the island in Withrod Lake have been considerably damaged by party-related activities.
  • Marijuana growing: Not a serious or widespread problem, but over the years a number of small plots of marijuana have been found within park boundaries.
  • Off-leash dog walking and dog walkers refusing to pick up after their pets.

Environmental challenges

Like most other parks in Halifax, it suffered extensive tree-loss as a result of Hurricane Juan on September 29, 2003. Many paths were blocked and some of the less-used ones remain that way. Most have since been cleared by citizens, however, since the province does not actively manage provincial parks before a management plan is created and approved. The slash created by these downed trees, which include many mature large, mature spruce trees, has created a significant fire hazard, although to date this has not created a problem.

As mentioned elsewhere in the article, many of the more often used trails suffer from extensive erosion, and some have become quite wide because of people avoiding wet areas or creating short-cuts.

Water quality is good overall, but is affected somewhat by runoff from the nearby Bayer's Lake Industrial Park, and locally, by off-leash dogs swimming in the lake.

In the large southern region of the park, extensive damage has been done by all-terrain vehicles, especially in boggy areas and along trails. This is an ongoing problem which will hopefully be remediated via education and more vigorous enforcement of regulations.

Flora and fauna

Habitats within the park are extremely varied, and include various kinds of wetlands, old-growth vegetative successions from areas previously farmed, an area planted with pine trees by the Boy Scouts in the 1960s, extensive barrens in the southwestern portion of the park, some mixed hardwood/softwood and predominantly hardwood (oak, beech, witch hazel, birch, red maple) areas in the small northern part of the park discussed above, and extensive areas of boreal forest in the SE region - largely red and black spruce, balsam fir and red maple. As with most parts of Nova Scotia, large, old white pines dot the park, being left over from the logging which most areas underwent before their designation as watershed lands. It is worth noting that healthy populations of orchids can be found in some of the marshy portions in the park.

The park's fauna is healthy and varied and includes many deer, the occasional moose, multitudes of squirrels, fox, bobcats, chipmunks, 3 or 4 species of frogs and salamanders, many fish and bird species, beavers (who have extensively altered portions of the park), muskrats, snakes and others. Unverified reports of lynx tracks and spoor also exist. Bears have not been reported within the park in recent years.

History of human use

The lands included within the present park boundaries have had a long history of human use, including logging, several farms and many small granite quarries which provided the stones for many of the 19th century buildings in downtown Halifax. As part of its development as Halifax's watershed lands, in the early part of the 20th century an earthen dam was erected on Pine Hill Lake, greatly enlarging it. A long concrete and earth dam was constructed on Long Lake, again significantly expanding its area. A pipeline was built connecting the two lakes, and to the adjacent Chain Lakes. The entire area has been logged extensively in the early part of the 20th century, but a few scattered old growth trees remain. The north eastern side of Long lake featured world war I barracks location, extensive trenches and machine gun battle emplacement which protected movement from the St. Margaret's Bay and Prospect bay roads into Halifax. This fortification is known as Chain Lake Position - Locality 2


The park possesses an extensive trail system comprising:

  • old roads associated with the farms in the area, including one connecting the Old Sambro Rd. in Spryfield, and Goodwood (on the Prospect Rd.), and another from Goodwood to Harrietsfield,
  • The "pipeline trail", above the pipeline between Pine Hill to Long Lakes. Most of this has unfortunately become flooded and swampy in recent years, hence impassable,
  • older trails associated with habitation, watershed usage, quarries and general uses such as fishing, swimming, berry picking, hiking and hunting and
  • newer trails developed by mountain bikers, as discussed above. Many of the more extensively used trails suffer from erosional problems, and various remedial proposals including trail closures have been discussed as part of the creation of the park's development plan. It is interesting to note, however, that the majority of the damage to the trails occurred during the drop of mountain bike use and the increase in hiker/dog walker traffic.

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