MABOU: Last Saturday was an historic day as members of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust (NSNT) celebrated their largest coastal conservation effort in the group’s 25-year history.
“In all, this project protects 2,000 acres of amazing coastal lands, highlands, and brooks,” said Bonnie Sutherland, executive director of the NSNT. “It’s a fantastic win for conservation and for Nova Scotia.”
Sutherland spoke to The Reporter just before officially announcing the Mabou Highlands Conservation Lands are now a protected area thanks to a group of American families and the nature trust. Well over 100 folks attended the official announcement at the St. Joseph’s Renewal Centre in Mabou.
The new protected area encompasses a vast area of coastline between Mabou and Inverness. The coastal lands adjoin another large area of Crown land on the mountain plateau, lands pending designation as the Cape Mabou Wilderness Area. Together, the combined provincial and nature trust protected areas will encompass over 5,800 acres of contiguous habitat, from the sea to the top of the mountain plateau.
“Government can make a protected area on Crown land, but we work with land owners who want to see nature protected,” Sutherland said. “In this case, all of the land owners want to have the land available for public use and ensure that it will never be subdivided, clear-cut, or turned into some sort of development that would destroy nature and keep people from enjoying this very special place.
“As a result of this happening, we’ve had other land owners say they’re interested in adding their lands to this protected area.”
Sutherland noted the announcement was made possible due to four generations of American landowners who long ago recognized the land was irreplaceable.
The protected properties were acquired by American families, beginning in the 1920s. Many of the families were associated with the Putney School, a progressive high school in Vermont. Seeing the pace and scale of privatization and development in the United States, the families recognized the opportunity to preserve such a coastal landscape in Inverness County. The story began with the late Carmelita Hinton, founder and head of the Putney School, who first started bringing her family and students to Cape Breton during the war years. She and her daughter – the late Jean Rosner – encouraged colleagues and friends to help acquire and protect neighbouring lands.
About 20 years ago, Rosner reached out to the Nature Trust for help. Along with fellow landowner David Rumsey, she began planning with the nature trust to bring a multi-landowner conservation vision to fruition. They encouraged neighbours to join them in protecting their land with the Nature Trust.
Rumsey, along with his wife Abby, were in attendance last Saturday.
“We were out hiking this week, and the land looks different to us now because it’s protected,” David told The Reporter. “This isn’t only conserving nature, but it’s also conserving history. There’s a deep amount of history in the settlement that went on for 150 years, and that adds a whole new layer to this.”
Abby said even though she and her husband live on the west coast, there’s a good reason why they travel to western Cape Breton twice a year.
“You become so attached to the land that being here makes you feel fuller as a human being,” she said. “We want everyone to feel like that, now and into the future.
“We sometimes think of nature as a powerful force, but in a way it’s quite fragile. The lands need us as much as we need the land.”
In the early years of working with the nature trust, a number of families took leadership roles. They included Bob and Mary Lou Treat, as well as Wilbur and Vivian Walworth (both couples now deceased). The children of the couples were also involved, as well as the Learnard family, who co-owned property with the Walworths. They protected their lands near Sight Point through conservation easements with the NSNT in the early 2000s.
Jim Walworth was also at the announcement, and he told The Reporter he was proud that his family was able to contribute.
“It was the previous generation that deserves much of the credit,” he said. “They really got it going, and it’s so nice to see it snowballing.”
In 2013, Bob and Lee-Ann Kinzer signed on with the nature trust to protect their land at MacKinnon’s Brook. Last year, the Ramseys placed a conservation easement on their MacKinnon’s Brook lands. David offered to reach out to other American landowners to collaborate in a land-conservation effort, and he donated over $600,000 to make the campaign possible. In all, David helped the nature trust piece together 11 new conservation properties, encompassing 1,500 acres of land.
The protected area is welcome news for Cape Bretoners and visitors. A world class network of hiking trails meander along historic cart tracks, giving visitors a unique opportunity to experience the exceptionally scenic and cultural heritage of the area.
“The preservation of these properties is a real gift to not only the local community but to all folks who get to experience the beauty and peace of this special area,” said Nadine Hunt of the Cape Mabou Trail Club.
The conservation success was part the nature trust’s Lasting Landscapes campaign to help stem loss in biodiversity across the planet.
The campaign was supported by the Government of Canada’s Nature Fund, part of a national commitment to protect 17 per cent of Canada’s lands for biodiversity by 2020.
Anyone looking to help out the Nature Trust in terms of donations or volunteering is welcome to visit: www.nsnt.ca or telephone 902-425-LAND.