HRM buys Cow Bay lot for surfer access to ocean

"Minutes" break is one of the Atlantic's best surf destinations-- Read the full city report

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Seeing a line of surfboards stacked against parked cars on Cow Bay Rd., while surfers cling to the roadside in a scramble to pull on their wetsuits, is something most locals are used to. The surfing community has been trespassing through Cow Bay residents' yards for years to ride one of Atlantic Canada's few world class waves---a surf break called “Minutes.” But now surfers and the rest of the Cow Bay community have a beach to call their own. A report from a closed session of city council reveals that the municipality agreed to spend just over $211,000 for a 9.2 acre beachside property with 1,000 feet of ocean frontage. Read the full report here.

"We have an obligation as a government to ensure that we provide coastal access to the public and there's not enough of it left, so we have to take our opportunities where we can get them,” says Cow Bay Councillor Jackie Barkhouse. The land purchase was also instigated by environmental concerns: the previous property owner, Edward Jakeman, had been infilling ecologically sensitive marshland in hopes of developing it. "If we as a municipality purchased this wetland, we could ensure that it was preserved and looked after,” says Barkhouse.

The Coastal Access Committee, a non-profit organization working to secure public access to Nova Scotia's coastlines, spent three and a half years lobbying the municipality to create a public beach. The beach is a favourite spot of local surfer and Committee co-chair Iaian Archibald. “We've had surfers from B.C., Hawaii and California come here and surf Minutes and be blown away by the quality of the waves,” he says. The waves have drawn international surfing competitions to Cow Bay, such as Red Bull's Ice Break competition, hosted with the permission of the 2004 land owner Alan Gosley.

Archibald explains that there are three kinds of surf breaks: beach, reef and cobblestone break. "Minutes is a little special because it's a combination of a reef and cobblestone, which is part of the reason that it's got such good shape,” he says. “Its nickname is ‘Minutes’ because the joke is that you can ride a wave for minutes. It just keeps on going and going and going.”

HRM project manager Blair Blakeney says the city will present plans for a boardwalk and parking lot to Cow Bay residents and get feedback from the community, in an open meeting May 27. Construction of the boardwalk is likely to begin this July. Blakeney guesses the project could cost up to $70,000 and says an anonymous donor will likely fund a significant portion of the project, provided it's accepted by the Cow Bay community first. The Coastal Access Committee is raising funds for the boardwalk by asking for donations of $100 in exchange for having your name engraved on a board (see here for details.) Ideally, the boardwalk would provide access to both Minutes and the neighbouring beach Backyards, says Sean Kelly, the Committee's other co-chair.

Kelly says the park is not just for the surfing community and should attract paddlers, bird watchers and naturalists as well. The Ecology Action Centre and the Environment Committee of Canoe Kayak wrote letters expressing their official support for the development of a public park. Councillor Barkhouse hopes a boardwalk would provide "an opportunity for the young people to go in there and ride their bikes and roller-blade, because there are no sidewalks in that area."

Sport Nova Scotia gave the Surfing Association of Nova Scotia full membership earlier this year and the sport continues to explode in popularity. The Coastal Access Committee estimates there are over 1,000 year-round surfers and thousands more seasonally. A small community of surfers have even started moving to Cow Bay just for the surf. The creation of a public beach “is in part the city recognizing how big the sport has become and how much of a part of Nova Scotia's identity it's becoming,” says Archibald happily.

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