Halifax Heroes: Passion for environment runs through veins of this Sackville man
Sackville Rivers Association president Walter Regan is a full-time volunteer making a difference in his community.
Anyone who knows Walter Regan now may find it hard to believe he once uttered the words “I ain’t hugging any tree and I ain’t kissing any whales.”
But that was Regan’s first comment in 1988 when approached by his neighbour and friend Shane O’Neil about joining the Sackville Rivers Association (SRA).
“Finally…just to shut him up I said I’d go to just one clean up. And that week we went to the Sackville River and we took 50 cars out of river,” Regan recalled.
“Twenty minutes from where I lived on one side of the river is an old abandoned pit. In the river there were cars everywhere that you could see. But on the left bank, the bank is 60 feet high and there are massive trees. You’re standing in a bubbling river, a wild river. The contrast just hit me.”
Regan went to his first SRA meeting in September of 1988, put his hand up to volunteer during the second meeting in October, and hasn’t stopped since.
Long recognized as the face of the SRA and its president, Regan has attended countless meetings, written endless emails and advocated for not only the Sackville River but many related environmental initiatives.
“I’ve been told ‘Mr. Regan, if you don’t like the system change it.’ How do you change the system? You go to one meeting, two meetings, you go to three meetings,” he said.
“What people don’t realize is what you give up. You go to a meeting, you give up painting the bathroom. You give up a birthday. That’s part of the trade off.”
The retired engineer is now a full time volunteer and was the subject of a community fundraising roast on Saturday night.
“I’m nervous about it but wasn’t going to say no to helping out,” he said ahead of the event.
Regan is proud of the SRA’s accomplishments. He said it was behind ensuring construction of the Bedford-Sackville connector trail that opened in 2006. Last year the association logged 40,000 visits on its trail counter.
Further trail expansion is underway to eventually connect to Mount Uniacke.
The organization has undertaken salmon habitat restoration projects and successfully lobbied for flood plain zoning and protection. It also offers two educational in-classroom programs, River Rangers and Fish Friends.
Regan said those programs have helped the SRA create public awareness about the importance of the river and watershed.
“In 2002 we had a terrible spill in the river…Believe it or not that went national news and it got on CNN. Honestly. My phone started ringing and it went on for two weeks,” Regan said.
On the other end were young people from Ohio, England and other parts of North America.
“They were calling and saying ‘I just saw on the news you had a spill. Did my fish die?’ They had been part of the River Ranger/Fish Friends program and were worried about the fish they put in the river,” he said.
“All of a sudden you realize you are having an effect on a whole generation and we’re having a silent effect. These are not people coming to meetings or sending you cheques. These are people who had good feelings from nature and it was part of their childhood.”
Regan’s also a member of the Sackville Community Development Association and serves as a director with community groups overseeing First and Second lakes and the Cobequid Cultural Centre Society.
He also represents the SRA on the Halifax Regional Trails Association and on the municipality’s active transportation committee. Regan is also chairman of HRM’s Regional Watersheds Advisory Board.
“I could sit at home and do what? Drink? Twiddle my thumbs? Watch TV? I can’t. More importantly I know in my bones that I’m making a small difference,” he said.
“And certainly as we get older we want to know we’re making a difference. Even a small difference.”
Bedford-Sackville Observer – September 6, 2016
Heidi Tattrie Rushton | Go Outside
September 5, 2016- 9:32am
Bridge over Sackville River.
On one side of this trail runs a highway, so close you can see drivers slurping their morning coffee and rocking out to their car tunes. On the other side is the Canadian Forces Rifle Range with a steady stream of bullets firing from it.
But, wait! Stay with me. In the middle of the trail a river runs through it and this river is why you should take a walk on the Bedford Sackville Connector Greenway.
Almost immediately after I start my walk off Old Sackville Road (near Lynn Court) I begin seeing informational signs that tell me the story of the river. Part of that story includes the rows of rocks that stretch from from one side of the river to the other at various spots. It’s clear they do not naturally settle in that position and I learn from the signs that they are called rock sills.
The sills are built by volunteers with the Sackville Rivers Association to restore fish habitats that were damaged from development in the area. These formations allow water to flow over the rocks and create a natural downstream with pools and riffles for the Sackville River fish population, which include Atlantic Salmon, American Eel and Speckled Trout.
Fish aren’t the only residents of this river though. As I walk along I come to a spot that has a short path through the trees to the river. I glance down it as I pass and spot a Blue Heron standing majestically on the rocks of the river where, on the other side, cars speed by oblivious to his presence. I am so startled that by the time I think to take a photo he’s already happily skipped his way further down the river, likely looking for a little breakfast fish to start his day.
It’s about a five kilometre return trip from the Old Sackville Road entrance to the Bedford Place Mall. The trail is crusher dust and has a flat, even, accessible surface. There are also several benches to stop and enjoy the river, and a few bridges along the route offering stunning views. I meet several friendly people who seem to be on their regular morning dog walk, jog or stroll with friends.
Just past the rifle range, the trail takes me under the highway through a brightly painted tunnel and an overpass, and then goes beside a Bedford ballfield where it becomes a little quieter. Once at the mall the option is there to continue on through Bedford on this trail all the way to Scott Manor House (or, you know, if it’s a really hot day, to just stop at the True North Diner for a milkshake).
I’m not going to lie, this is not a quiet wander in the woods. This is an active transportation route designed to offer residents the option to walk between the communities instead of driving. It’s not a bad idea to bring a pair of headphones with nature sounds or soothing music to block out the surrounding noise. If you do that though, remember to look around and enjoy the beauty of the river. The Bedford Sackville Connector Greenway offers a rare front row seat to see community action at work nurturing a natural resource; and to see nature thriving, despite urban development, with a little help from its friends.
Back to the river
By Michelle Brunet | June 5, 2013
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.”