Thirty teenagers pile onto a yellow bus, tired after a long school day. Their shoes are soggy, their hands are caked with mud and their smiles are wide. Today, they weren’t learning in a classroom. They were outside, building the first official trail on Brier Island.
The project, led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, got 31 junior and senior high school students from Digby Regional High, St. Mary’s Bay Academy and Islands Consolidated School to help build a five-kilometre trail May 29.
Minutes after arriving at the base camp, the youngsters were busy, armed with shovels, hammers, wheelbarrows and rakes. A few even got to try out the powerful diesel and hydraulic wheelbarrow. Despite the rain and stiff wind, the students successfully completed the day’s challenge – to move and lay down 12 tons of gravel by hand and build five wooden platforms along the trail.
Craig Smith, project manager for the Nature Conservancy, said local residents and tourists have used the island for years, but without the help of a real trail. “Tourists come, they drive the road, and they really are just looking for somewhere to get out, have a short walk, and see the ocean.”
Now, that trail exists, winding along a grassy field, over wooden platforms and large boulders up to a coastal look-off, then snaking left along the rocky shore. It offers spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy and up-close encounters with hundreds of nesting gulls. The trail starts as a hard gravel path, then fades into a beaten down grass trail after 200 meters. Six interpretive panels are on the island, giving information about the animals and the habitat.
The Brier trail project cost $100,000 and was funded in part by the province’s departments of tourism and health and wellness. The conservatory paid for bus fare and snacks at lunchtime for all the workers.
The students came from different school and classes. Digby Regional and SMBA sent students from O2 classes and Islands Consolidated School sent students from its production technology class.
Digby Neck and Islands Gulf of Maine Institute group (GOMI), also sent a handful of students. GOMI is an international organization that works to promote conservation by partnering with youth to do local projects. The local branch, lead by Roger Outhouse has eight or nine students.
One of the group members, Shealee Newman, said the program is a lot of fun. “We get to do a lot of outdoorsy stuff like this. It sets an example for other people, showing other people how help the environment. Even the younger kids are noticing.”
Outhouse told the entire group that their contribution was invaluable. “Today, not only did you get to see a legacy, you got to help build a legacy. This trail will be here for generations, you can bring your kids here in 30 years and say you helped build this trail.”
Cobequid Trail Consulting, a private company headed by Garnet McLaughlin, oversaw planning and construction of the project.
McLaughlin estimated the labour the students put in was worth six thousand dollars, and said that over half of the students told him they had never been to Brier Island.
“That’s why we do this,” said McLaughlin. “We need these places. We need to take on the responsibility as adults to find ways to get these kids back in nature. The only cost was a bus ride, and making sure they got fed. It wasn’t a lot of money and look what we are getting.”
“And they own it. They did it, you know.”