HALIFAX - Jutting out into Halifax Harbour on the southern tip of the city's peninsula, Point Pleasant Park remains a beloved destination for locals and visitors alike, even as it undergoes a slow and radical transformation.
On most days, the park is full of life as walkers, runners and cyclists take to the park's 40 kilometres of complex trails, accompanied by dogs, strollers and errant squirrels.
The foot traffic is not much different from any given day in the past five, 10, 20 years or more. But the surroundings changed drastically overnight seven years ago.
The park was decimated in September 2003 when hurricane Juan roared up the Atlantic Ocean and landed a Category-2 punch directly on the mouth of the harbour.
By the time the storm moved on from Halifax, its winds had levelled 75 per cent of Point Pleasant's trees. And although the hard evidence of Juan's destruction — felled trees and stray branches — were soon removed, the damage remains visible.
Cambridge Drive, a wide road that extends from the Tower Road parking lot southward toward the water, was once heavily shaded, even in the midday sun. Today, shadows are scarce and become scarcer as visitors walk toward the water's edge.
But the visitors remain undeterred.
Wally MacNeil walks through the park nearly every day, and has for years. MacNeil says he likes the park because it allows him to tackle a few inclines and get some exercise, and thinks it's even nicer in some ways than before the hurricane.
He says the park is "a lot more open now; you can see more.
"It was really closed in before ... it's nice to see the scenery," he said while taking a quick breather on a bench by the Prince of Wales tower.
Still, there are some dissenting voices.
Frank Stolarz from nearby Head of St. Margaret's Bay hadn't visited the park for five years before this August, and called his latest trip "disappointing."
"It's nice to see the growth coming up," he said, "but I thought there was a plan to actually develop some of the park."
Stolarz was thinking of the Point Pleasant Park Comprehensive Plan, which the Halifax Regional Municipality endorsed in 2008, partly as a response to the hurricane. The plan will significantly change all facets of park life, from lighting and signage to flora and fauna, over the course of years and decades to come.
John Simmons, the urban forester for the municipality, explained that the plan's aim is not simply to restore the park to its pre-hurricane condition.
"(Point Pleasant) was an even-growth stand, and an even-growth stand ... (is) just asking for a potential risk of massive failure," he said.
One hundred thousand seedlings have already been planted to achieve the plan's goals, but not all will flourish. Foresters will selectively cut some trees to reach the target of a more natural balance of conifer and broadleaf trees. Before the hurricane, the conifer-to-broadleaf ratio was approximately four-to-one.
Amidst the trees, Point Pleasant's labyrinthine trails lead to many hidden remnants of its military history. The park's limits contain no fewer than four retired artillery batteries, some of which are overrun with plant life and seem to blend into the natural landscape.
History also plays a major role elsewhere in the park. Along the waterfront there are three memorials to sailors, including one for those lost on the SS Point Pleasant Park, which was sunk off South Africa in the Second World War.
Toward the south end of the park sits The Prince of Wales tower, a dominant feature since its completion in 1798. In addition to being open to the public, the tower also plays host to Shakespeare by the Sea, a perennial favourite in Halifax.
The company puts on three productions — two by the Bard and one family show — in the park each summer.
This year, the troupe stages "Twelfth Night," in which Olivia boasts that her beauty "will endure wind and weather" — a fitting line for such a venue.