How can we ensure enough public access to the coast?
Public coastal access is about people’s ability to view, reach, and move along the shoreline of both the mainland and nearby islands. In Nova Scotia, access to the coast provides valued recreational space for residents and visitors. It also supports local economic development, particularly for the tourism industry. In Nova Scotia the public has expressed concern about changes in land ownership and increased development in coastal areas. This is particularly true for those areas that have had more pressure from population growth and higher levels of development.
Specific issues include whether the public can:
• view or physically use the coast
• pass over land legally to reach the coast
• access coastal lands from the water
• afford to access the coast through fees or other expenses
• use coastal areas without placing undue stress on ecosystems
The public gains access to the coast through privately and publicly owned land, and through trail networks developed over both these types of land.
Access through publicly owned land
Public access in many areas is reached through public, or government-owned, land. With few exceptions, the strip of land between low and high tide is Crown land, and is an asset for the public to enjoy and explore. Public access to the coast is normally available through Crown land, harbours, public road rights-of-way, historic sites, and through national, provincial, and municipal parks. But not all publicly owned land is accessible to the general public. For example, some public land may be restricted to protect natural ecosystems or to allow for licensed extraction of natural resources, such as mining or forestry.
All National Parks in Atlantic Canada provide public access to the coast. Map courtesy of the Atlas of Canada
Access through privately owned land
The public can also access the coast across privately owned land. They can ask for permission or pay the land owner. They can pay for a service provided on private coastal land, such as renting a hotel room and accessing the beach through hotel property.
People can also purchase coastal property, ensuring private access for their families and guests.
Coastal development can make access difficult, and it’s happening more frequently along roads or highways running parallel to oceanfront lots. As more lots are subdivided and land is developed, areas of the coast that people have traditionally and informally accessed have become more restricted.
Views across private property are another way that the public can access the coast, and views from roads and trails are generally plentiful. But restriction of views is an issue in urban centres like Halifax, where most of the tall buildings are built.
Trails throughout the province also provide access to coastal views, beaches, and wetlands. Community trail associations and the Trans Canada Trail system work with all levels of government to develop, maintain, and promote individual and broader trail networks. Formal trails are relatively new to the region, but more are being developed than ever before. They ensure access to many different locations, including the coast.
Segments of the Trans-Canada Trail can be found at Trans-Canada Trail website.
In Nova Scotia there are the following information gaps:
No record of public access points that is comprehensive or consistently maintained, making it difficult to create an overall picture of provincial trends and the status of coastal access.
No inventory of permitted pathways across private land.
The status or importance of these places for coastal access must be determined. Much of the conflict and public concern is about informal access across privately owned land. Many traditional pathways have been reduced or cut off as more land is developed and land owners no longer grant permission to cross their land.
Note: The text for this article relies heavily on the Nova Scotia State of the Coast Public Access Fact Sheet, which is no longer available online.The Nova Scotia Government is currently conducting consultation on Coastal Protection Legislation. Follow this link to learn more from the consultation document and submit a survey.