Coming together for nature
Volunteers remove damaged trees after Hurricane Fiona (Photo by Sarah Witney)
Since 2004, the Friends of the Pugwash Estuary (FOPE) have been working closely with residents of the area to help care for the Pugwash Estuary and monitor surrounding areas.
The non-profit organization was established when a group of like-minded nature enthusiasts who were concerned about the natural area came together to protect the estuary from environmental threats. In 2013, FOPE was recognized as a charitable organization and, today, with 12 board of director members, 150 members and a small team of volunteers, the organization has grown while continuing to give back to nature.
FOPE’s mission extends beyond stewardship and trail maintenance. The organization also supports students in their research of salt marshes and organizes bird counting events throughout the spring, fall and winter. “Through the generosity of some of our founding members, FOPE owns property on the Estuary, including our home base Estuary House, a screened outdoor classroom and a building we are currently developing as an interpretive centre that will provide information on the Pugwash Estuary, the environment and history,” says Elizabeth Hodgson, a chairperson with FOPE.
A longstanding collaboration between the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and FOPE has given the local community an opportunity to get involved and care for landscapes close to home.
"NCC has been active in the Pugwash area since the early 1990s. The FOPE-NCC connection evolved naturally but really took on a true partnership when the Pugwash Estuary Trail and complementary Peace Trail system were developed. So much work has been done by FOPE to build and maintain the existing trail system,” says John Caraberis, a passionate FOPE board member, volunteer and supporter of NCC in Nova Scotia. As one of NCC’s Atlantic regional board members, John has been lending a helping hand at NCC’s Conservation Volunteer events.
John first spearheaded NCC’s involvement in Pugwash by helping secure property donations in the late 1990s. Today, the NCC Pugwash Nature Reserve has grown to over 500 hectares and is the largest estuary along Nova Scotia’s Northumberland Strait.
Doug Van Hemessen, NCC’s Nova Scotia stewardship manager, reflects on the partnership between the two organizations: “I’m amazed at the efforts of FOPE members and volunteers to help maintain the trails. NCC is grateful to have such an engaged, active and effective partner.”
Shortly after 3 a.m. on September 24, 2022, a category 4 hurricane named Fiona made landfall near Whitehead, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. Fiona hit this part of the province with tremendous force and cut across approximately 275 kilometres toward the community of Pugwash before carrying on to Prince Edward Island. It would become the most costly extreme weather event in Canadian history.
Several days after the hurricane, while still recovering from the impacts, FOPE led and rallied residents of the region to come together and help restore its severe impacts to the Pugwash Estuary trail.
Tackling the aftermath of a hurricane would be an uphill battle, but for Sarah Witney, a chairperson on the trails committee of FOPE, remembering the pleasantness of hiking the Pugwash trails was worth all the sweat and sometimes tears.
“It was disheartening to see all the devastation. The work needed to put the trails back into shape for hiking was much more than the initial work done to create them in the first place [in 2016–2017]”, recalls Sarah. The devastations, although difficult to observe, did not stop the volunteers’ hard work in the field. With the help of eight chainsaw operators and about 20 volunteers moving logs, clearing branches and carrying equipment, the recovery process for Pugwash’s trail system quickly began to take shape.
Even though some of the hiking trails have been restored and areas were cleared for wildlife, Pugwash will still require more care going forward. You can contribute to this beautiful nature reserve.