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.”