HALFWAY RIVER – For the first time in more than 40 years, visitors to what was the Newville Lake day-use park are being greeted by a fence and a locked gate.
The property is no longer a provincial park, due to the expiry of the lease between the department of natural resources and its private landowner, much to the displeasure of at least one person who used it on a regular basis.
Steven Jenkins of Springhill said he and his family have been stopping at the park for years, and had no idea it was even in danger of closure until he saw “private property” signs there earlier this year.
“Not everybody knows it by name, but everybody knows what it is and where it is,” said Jenkins. “Everybody I spoke to has brought their kids fishing here, and that’s why I’m angry, because I bring my grandkids here.”
Established in 1972 as a roadside provincial picnic park, the Newville Lake park was unique in the provincial parks system because it was operated through a private land lease, according to department of natural resources spokesperson Bruce Nunn.
“The province has determined that renewal of the lease is not appropriate at this time and the province will focus its efforts on the provincially-owned lands that comprise the Parks and Protected Areas Plan released in August 2013,” said Nunn. “There are no other changes in provincial park openings in the province.”
Cumberland South MLA Jamie Baillie has confirmed that the closure was a result of the department failing to come to terms with the owner on the renewal of the lease. he said hhe province was offering a lease of $1,550 for five years, while the owner wanted $2,000 over five years, amounting to a difference of less than $100 per year. According to Jenkins, the province countered with an offer of $1,750 over five years, a difference of only $250.
Property owner Cameron Fullerton said it's not even about a dollar value for him, but said he was told last November that the department did not want the property anymore.
The operating costs for the park were $6,500, and it was looked after by staff from the department of natural resources office in Parrsboro. But Baillie contends that the operating costs were not an issue for the government, as it was prepared to pay them under the lease agreement it offered.
“I think it’s a disgrace that the park is going to close over a couple hundred dollars,” said Baillie, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. “The benefits to the area far outweigh the trivial amounts involved.”
Baillie raised the issue in the legislature last week, calling on the province and the landowner to get back together and work out a deal.
Meanwhile, the Municipality of Cumberland County is also in discussions about possibly opening the property back to the public as a municipal park, something neither Baillie nor Jenkins think is necessary.
“We’re talking about $250, which is less than the premier spends on lunch in a week,” said Jenkins. “What really aggravates me is they have allowed this to drag on until now, to the point where we have ‘private property’ signs up there and a gate. I have all the sympathy in the world with the gentleman who owns the property, because this is a typical government move of closing this park without telling the people.”
Jenkins said he has met people from all over the world at the park, including countries such as New Zealand, Germany, France and Switzerland.
Baillie said he appreciates that the municipality is working on a “Plan B,” but said he is not ready to let the provincial government off the hook yet.
“This is an example of bureaucracy going crazy when common sense should prevail,” he said. “Given the small amounts involved, surely they can come to some agreement in the middle.”
Fullerton said the property goes back for generations in his family, and that he has no plans for it right now, although he has been offered money from a private individual to park a trailer on it for the summer. He said he is open to discussions with the province again.