Nova Scotia

The Bike and Bean – Cycling from Halifax to Tantallon

After our trip to Holland in the spring I became re-energized about cycling and decided to get serious about it. The first step was to buy a new bike, but after a visit to Cyclesmith, Halifax’s best known bike shop, I was a bit dismayed at the cost – $1700 plus tax for a good quality Cannondale hybrid. While I was contemplating whether or not to go ahead with the purchase I noticed a 20% off all bikes sign at the Bike & Bean, the extremely popular bike and coffee shop in the old French Village train station not more than a few miles from where I live. While the Bike & Bean has a much smaller selection of bikes overall, I was surprised that it actually had a better selection of hybrid bikes than Cyclesmith. This is because its target buyer is a Rails to Trails user, most of whom want hybrids.

My choice was a Canadian made Opus Mondano which has 24 speeds and is just the right size fore me. With a  Yakima bike rack, a rear rack for attaching panniers or sidebags and a bell I got the whole lot for $770.00 tax in. Also the Bike and Bean provides free tuneups for any bikes purchased there. I felt I got a good deal and was happy to support a local business selling Canadian made bikes. What I did buy at Cyclesmith was a top quality Arkel  bike bag that doubles as a day pack. This is also a Canadian product.

Ready for action I donned my Captain Canada outfit last seen here in Holland and had Alison drive me into Halifax near the entrance to the Old Ashburn golf course just off the Bicentennial Highway where I would pick up the rails to trails and cycle back to the Bike and Bean.

My Beach sign
Captain Canada

Halifax is currently working on a trail system that will allow cyclists and walkers to go almost from downtown Halifax out into the country following the rail bed of the old Halifax and South Western line that ran down the South Shore. When I first moved out of the city to Boutilier’s Point in the early 1980’s this line was still operating on a once a week basis, but it was abandoned in the early 1990’s. However, a short spur servicing various businesses in Bayer’s Lake was operational until 2007 and only after that date was it possible for the city to realize its goal of a uniform trail from city to country.

Other than the portion of the trail from Bayer’s Lake to Lakeside Industrial Park I had walked or x-country skied all of this trail over the years so I knew it had some very interesting things to see. Today I brought the camera to capture some of them.

The three trail sections that make up the system from Halifax to Tantallon are allegedly part of the Great Trail (formerly the Trans-Canada Trail) system and there are signs proclaiming this at various points. However, if you look at the website you will see that this system is not included. The reason is one of Nova Scotia’s dirty little secrets that is a provincial disgrace and that reinforces the belief that many other Canadians have of us as backward hillbillies. The fact is that ATV interests have hijacked the Great Trail in Nova Scotia with the result that we have been effectively disowned by the national body. At one time the TCT planned to have all of southern Nova Scotia included with a trail that ran from Halifax to Yarmouth along the South Shore and then through the Annapolis Valley. However, with very limited exceptions, the TCT is for Active Transportation only – hiking, biking, x-country skiing,  roller blading or anything that can be done by human effort only. Instead of embracing the opportunity to receive national funds to create a trail system that will promote healthier lifestyles, reduce emissions and cost a lot less, Nova Scotia has sided with the ATV bullies who believe they have a God given right to ride anywhere, at anytime. Not only that, they get taxpayer’s money to help them. Disgracefully, what was once the Nova Scotia Health Promotion agency, was one of the ATVers biggest supporters funding wise. It is now merged with the Department of Health and I suspect the funding is well hidden in the budget. Only in Nova Scotia could you get the Orwellian situation where an agency designed to promote public health does the very opposite by fostering the most environmentally damaging activity there is and that also has the highest rate of injury and death associated with any ‘recreational ‘ activity except maybe base jumping.

UPDATE:
It seems with the rebranding of the TCT into the Great Trail that ATVers are now once again in the fold as many sections that were formerly kicked out of the system are now back in. However, the portion I am writing about is not.

Back to the trail. Thankfully at least part of the trail is non-motorized. The Chain of Lakes system  runs from Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax to Lakeside Industrial Park. It is paved and for Active Transportation only. I can only hope that we see more signs like this as new trails are developed and people become more knowledgeable about the benefits of Active Transportation.

Chain of Lakes Trail Sign
Chain of Lakes Trail System 

Although much of the Chain of Lakes system is in the middle of an industrial park there are still a few interesting things to see including the very lake for for which the park is named. Even though thousands of people visit Bayer’s Lake park every day by car, they seldom get a glimpse of the lake as the view is blocked from every angle, except from the trail. Here is what Bayer’s Lake actually looks like. Not bad for an industrial park.

Bayer's Lake
Bayer’s Lake

From Horseshoe Lake Drive to Lakeside Industrial Park the trail looks great.

Chain of Lakes Trail, Cycling to the Bike and Bean
Chain of Lakes Trail

At Lakeside the Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea or BLT system begins. If you look at the website the only thing different in terms of activity from Chain of Lakes is that the non-motorized box is not checked. So from now on ATVs and dirt bikes are to be expected. The BLT is not paved, but I found it in very good condition which means it probably is not getting much ATV use as it is these machines that destroy the trails, not the walkers and bikers who have minimal impact on a well constructed trail. It also has an abundance of benches, garbage cans and bags for dog droppings.

Just after leaving the environs of the industrial park heading for the Bike and Bean the trail becomes canopied with overhead maple, birch and oak leaves and is a very pleasant ride on a warm day.

BLT Trail, cycling to the Bike and Bean
BLT Trail

The next of many lakes on this route to the Bike and Bean is Lovett Lake which has development going on across the way, but is undisturbed on this side.

Lovett Lake, cycling to the Bike and Bean
Lovett Lake

Next up is one of my favourite parts of the trail as it follows the shoreline of Governor Lake for about two kilometres. There are numerous spots to go down to the water for a swim or just sun bathe on the rocks.

Governor Lake
Governor Lake

Yesterday people were out on the water in kayaks and one was on a paddle board.

Paddle Boarder and Kayaker on Governor Lake
Paddle Boarder and Kayaker on Governor Lake

Governor Lake Drains into Governor Brook and not far after that is the prettiest spot on the entire trail where a small waterfall cascades over a granite ledge and then runs under the trail into Governor Brook. I don’t know what this waterfall is called, but since it drains out of Six Mile Lake I’ll call it Six Mile Falls.

Waterfall into Governor Brook on the way to the Bike and Bean
Waterfall into Governor Brook

Sitting on the bench in the shade listening to the waterfall is one of the best ways to decompress I know of. And it’s all just a few moments from the hustle and bustle of the suburbs.

Bench and Waterfall
Bench and Waterfall

Moving on towards the Bike and Bean the brook opens into a mill pond before narrowing and entering Fraser Lake.

Governor Brook at the mill pond
Governor Brook at the mill pond

This was the site of Fraser’s Mill, a large sawmill that operated here in the 1800’s and of which not a trace remains today.

Site of Fraser's Mill
Site of Fraser’s Mill

Shortly after the trail crosses Highway #3 and enters a section that is not that exciting as highway noise is distracting and the scenery is mundane, but it all changes after the trail crosses under Highway #103 and again there is a separation between trail and highway. The entrance to the Bluff Wilderness Trail system is nearby and there are places to park and lock your bike if a little serious hiking is on the agenda. This is one of the premiere trail systems in HRM, but even the shortest loop will take several hours so I’ll give it a pass today. However, I note that several groups are heading out for appears to be an overnight stay based on the amount of gear they are carrying. Good for them.

Bluff Wilderness Trail Entrance
Bluff Wilderness Trail Entrance

Just past the entrance to the trail system the trail crosses a bridge that divides Cranberry Lake in half. A family with a small child and a dog are having a dip.

Cranberry Lake on the way to the Bike and Bean
Cranberry Lake

Although I have not come across an ATVer yet, I do find signs of their destructive ignorance in a bog just past Cranberry Lake where some asshole has driven his ATV off the trail and straight into the bog, leaving tracks that will take years to mend. The very first post I ever did on this website was about the failure of ATVers to responsibly interact with Active Transportation users on our rails to trails.

ATV Damage
ATV Damage

Next up is Black Point Lake from where you can launch a canoe and get into the remoter parts of the Bluff Wilderness system by way of Frederick Lake.

Black Point Lake on the way to the Bike and Bean
Black Point Lake

For some reason the lakes and ponds from Black Point Lake on have a lot of vegetation in them including pickerel weed and water lilies. This small pond just past Sam’s Lane is particularly popular with pickerel weed.

Pickerel Weed Pond
Pickerel Weed Pond

Almost across from this pond there is a small stream that connects it to Sheldrake Lake. ATVers decided it needed to be destroyed and seem to have accomplished that very well. Congratulations shitheads!

Let's destroy this stream
Hey Cletus, let’s destroy this stream

The bridge over Five Mile Lake is one of the nicest spots on the trail with excellent views in both directions.

Five Island Lake on the way to the Bike and Bean
Five Island Lake
Water Lilies in Five Island Lake
Water Lilies in Five Island Lake

This small cove is very scenic with its combination of cattails, water lilies and pickerel weed.

Cattails in Five Island Lake
Cattail Cove in Five Island Lake

Not far from here the trail crosses Highway #3 again and the BLT section ends and the St. Margaret’s Bay Trail system begins which leads to my destination at the Bike and Bean.

The evidence of heavier ATV traffic on this part of the trail is immediate as there are now deep depressions, ruts and in one case a large protruding rock that has been spray painted orange. However, by some miracle I still have not come across an ATV and the volume of bikers has increased steadily including a lot of families with little kids. The idea that some idiot on an ATV might come around a corner when one of these groups is nearby is frightening and it is only a question of time before there is a serious collision.

The trail now heads away from the highway and enters the boundary of Jerry Lawrence Provincial Park. There is a place near Round Lake where you can enter the park which has a couple of docks for fishing and a nice stream flowing into the lake near one of them.

Round Lake
Round Lake

Next up is my personal favourite on this section of the trail. I can’t find a name for it anywhere. However, there is a family of beavers that have a dam that has backed up the water here so we call it Beaver Dam Stream.It is a place Alison and I have visited hundreds of times in the last twenty-five years. I have seen otters in the stream, Alison was once blocked by a moose near here and this stretch of the trail is famous for its many varieties of warblers. Oven birds are particularly common here. Today I saw or heard at least five or six varieties. Here is what it looked like yesterday.

Our unnamed stream near the Bike and Bean
Beaver dam stream

Here’s what it looks like in the fall.

Autumn Beaver Dam Creek
Autumn Beaver Dam Creek

This area is also extremely popular with toads and snakes and today was no exception as I saw both including this garter snake sunning itself on the trail. It resented me shooing it into the woods, but it was not the safest place to bask.

Garter Snake on the Trail
Garter Snake on the Trail

Hubley Mill Lake is the last one on this stretch of the trail before the Bike and Bean and it is one of the prettiest. Black ducks nest near the bridge and muskrats favour the area.

Hubley Mill Lake
Hubley Mill Lake

The lake is drained by the East River which the trail follows for about half a kilometre. The river is shaded by some very large trees and is quite picturesque.

East River
East River

Soon the trail crosses Hammonds Plains Road via a trestle and the Bike and Bean comes into view. It has taken me just over two hours with stops. Today it is as busy as I have ever seen it with dozens of cars in the two parking lots and lots of bikers. They make great paninis here  – the smoked turkey with cranberry mayonnaise and provolone is my favourite. Washed down with a cold Propeller ale there is no better way to get re-energized.

French Village Station - the Bike and Bean
French Village Station – Bike & Bean

I never would have imagined that I could cycle from Halifax to Tantallon and not run into a single ATV, but today that happened. I did run into at least two hundred other people enjoying the trail so I can only hope that the success of the Bike and Bean in attracting cyclist to the trail in this area has diminished the enthusiasm of the ATVers who have thousands of kilometres of lumber roads to ride their machines on without bothering anyone.

Here’s a final little irony. I decided to bike on to where the old Bowater road that used to run between Highway 103 and the power station on St. Margaret’s Bay Road crosses the trail and then follow it to Highway 3 as this would avoid a portion of that highway that is dangerous for cyclists. At the juncture I came across a young woman with a girl of about three on the back riding an ATV that she clearly could not handle. Her T-shirt had a Duck Dynasty logo on it. ‘Nuff said.

If you are looking for other outdoor activities in the Halifax area I highly recommend the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area where you can hike or canoe literally within sight of city high rises.

 


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