B arely out of her graduation gown after receiving her degree from the University of New Brunswick, Laurel Bernard found herself working at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) as a project assistant on the organization’s newly acquired property in the Musquash Estuary, located near Saint John, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy.
and sea meet
Cared for by the local community, the Musquash Estuary offers a place to slow down and get away from the city
“I started working at NCC right when we began our land securement work in Musquash in 2001,” says Laurel. “I can remember visiting our first property in the estuary, and exploring the rocky shore of the outer part of the area.”
Sixteen years later, both she and the property itself have changed and evolved, almost as if they have grown alongside one another. Laurel is now the director of stewardship for NCC’s Atlantic Region, and NCC has increased the amount of conserved areas within the estuary from that first 44-hectare 109-acre) property to 2,023 hectares (more than 5,000 acres). These protected areas have grown to include one of Laurel’s favourite spots on the estuary: the Five Fathom Hole Trail.
“The Five Fathom Hole trail that NCC built with the help of local volunteers has some pretty spectacular lookoffs that allow you to see up and down the coast,” she says. “I always feel awed when I look along the coast and across the estuary at the undeveloped land and realize that NCC has protected all of it, as far as the eye can see, forever.”
None of it could have happened without the support of community members. “There are conservation-minded people that [NCC and I] have gotten to know over the years, who help us maintain the trails,” says Laurel. “They also sit along with NCC on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Musquash Marine Protected Area advisory committee.”
An evolving area
The landscape here looks very different now than it did 100 years ago. People used to reside along the estuary, says Laurel, but the area immediately around the estuary is no longer inhabited.
“Musquash used to be a sub-port of entry and a station on the New Brunswick Southern Railway,” she says. “There was one post office, nine stores, a church and a lumber mill, in a small town with a population of about 200 people.”
Fragments of the town still remain, reminding Laurel of the rich history that once stood here.
“You can see remnants of old building foundations in the woods and old barbed wire in some old trees,” she says.
An unexpected visitor
Several species can be found at Musquash. Virtually every inch of the estuary, from the vast skies to the marine water, is teeming with life. While many species, including rare shorebirds, reside on this property, on a recent visit there was one “species” that Laurel soon realized wasn’t one of Musquash’s typical residents.
“Along the trail I spotted a tiny raccoon figure,” recalls Laurel. “Once I got closer, I realized it was actually a geocache.”
“I always feel awed when I look along the coast and across the estuary at the undeveloped land and realize NCC has protected all of it, as far as the eye can see, forever.”
“Kids like the little details of what they can find; they explore more and get off the beaten track. They tend not to be so goal-oriented, like hiking to the end of the trail, but like to experience the journey and not be on a timeline!”
Exploring through the eyes of a child
When Laurel and her husband recently took their kids to Musquash, the boys immediately got their hands dirty, discovering species and aspects of the land.
“Kids like the little details of what they can find; they explore more and get off the beaten track,” says Laurel. “They tend not to be so goal-oriented, like hiking to the end of the trail, but like to experience the journey and not be on a timeline!”
“The boys really enjoyed the beach section of the trail, where they got to poke through the washed-up rockweed looking for treasures, finding a gull skeleton and figuring out what bones were what body parts, picking shells and rocks off the beach and tossing rocks into the water,” says Laurel. “Also, climbing the craggy rocks near the beach and checking out the tidal pools. They liked the two rainbow bridges along the trail, and dropping bits of twigs into the streams and seeing where they went.”
A place to slow down and get away from it all
With each visit to Musquash Five Fathom Hole Trail, Laurel becomes more and more acquainted with her old friend.
When she’s in need of a little break, she likes to wander off the beaten trail and retreat to a small, “secret” sandy beach.
“I feel like I really know the land,” says Laurel.
Photo Credits (Top to bottom): Mike Dembeck; Mike Dembeck; iStock; iStock; iStock; Mike Dembeck.