Lynn and Bob Guscott: Volunteering is a win-win

28 Feb 2022

This month, we’re delighted to introduce Bob and Lynn Guscott, two Property Guardians who gladly make the trek from just outside of Halifax to Cape Breton to steward Nature Trust land in the majestic Mabou Highlands.

Lynn and Bob Guscott

Bob and Lynn both retired in 2009, when Lynn had the opportunity to bring her nursing and health administration expertise to help establish two new hospitals in Turks and Caicos. When they returned from that year abroad, they both looked for contract opportunities to offer their unique skill sets back to Nova Scotia. 

Bob’s forestry background and career with the Department of Natural Resources was a natural fit for the Nature Trust’s conservation team. He was part of the early stages of what became the 100 Wild Islands project, visiting eight of the islands in a single summer to assess their forests in the preliminary stages of planning their protection. He later conducted similar assessments in the Mabou Highlands and in the St. Mary’s River area. “Bob loves trees!” Lynn exclaims. “Anything to do with trees, lichen and moss.” “Mistletoe is my thing!” Bob adds. “Every time you go out into the natural world you can learn something. And when you can go out into one of the Nature Trust’s protected areas, it’s even better because there always unique and outstanding natural features.”

As they wound down their post-retirement work projects, they began to look for how else to get involved. Both are active volunteers (Bob with community trails and Lynn with a professional council and homeless breakfast program), avid hikers, cyclists, and paddlers, and getting out in nature is something that they do almost every day. “We like to go for a walk and ride bikes and go into nature,” says Bob, “but if you could also go do something useful and helpful, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s a win-win situation.” 

“We have lived in Wellington, Halifax County, for almost 40 years,” says Bob. “But we had fallen in love with Mabou a few years ago when we went up to do some work and walk the trails. It’s such a special place, and I’m thrilled that the Nature Trust has taken it on and acquired many properties.” Lynn adds that they’re always up for “any chance to go to Cape Breton. We try to go there at least a couple times a year.” Last year, they became Property Guardians for the Nature Trust’s land at Sight Point in the Mabou Highlands.

Sight Point looking towards MacKinnons Brook. Photo credit: Irwin Barrett

“The landscape on the slopes of the Mabou Highlands is breathtaking. To sit on the side of a mountain and look out over the Northumberland Strait is just such an amazing experience,” says Bob. “People may not realize that there are special areas all over the province. Until you go out and start visiting them, you don’t really have the appreciation. Maybe Big Sur in California could rival Sight Point, maybe. But in Big Sur there are houses lining every promontory. We can actually save this land before that happens here!”

The remote wildness is definitely part of the appeal of monitoring a place like the Mabou Highlands. “Last year in the spring, we saw a lot of disturbance from the ice and wind storms over the winter,” explains Lynn. “Many trails were actually impassable, so we had to come back in the fall. It’s definitely a challenge, that particular property. It’s not a great distance but pretty steep in places. Probably the biggest challenge is driving into it, because the road is only maintained up to a certain point! But that’s partly why it’s so special and untouched, because it’s hard to get to.”

Another important contribution property guardians can do is look for injury and damage to forest trees. Recently, three new and serious invasive insects have been found in Nova Scotia. Each has the potential to cause severe impacts to the health and composition of our native Acadian forest.

Bob and Lynn are also excited for the improvements in monitoring technology that the new Landscape app will bring to the Nature Trust’s stewardship work. “As Property Guardians, it lets us be more in the moment, not worrying so much about collecting the data and whether you’re doing it exactly the right way. You’re able to be more observant with what you’re actually looking at,” says Lynn. They’ve had the chance to try it out already, and hope to get in at least one more practice session around HRM before their next official visit to the Mabou Highlands. 

Bringing personal expertise to the experience is a great bonus, both for volunteers and for the Nature Trust. Lynn explains that for Bob, using his background in forestry and cartography to compare old photos of the site with how it has grown in is a fascinating way of understanding its natural and cultural history. Nonetheless, they both stress the accessibility of volunteering. “A lot of people think you have to be a biologist or a conservation expert to help, but you can help in so many different ways, whether professional, or stuffing envelopes, or getting together with like-minded people who just love nature,” says Bob. Lynn adds, “I don’t think anybody should ever be intimidated or shy about volunteering. As long as you like going for a walk in nature, it’s just a very rewarding thing to be involved in.” 

Throughout the last two years, more and more people have been seizing the opportunity to get outdoors and explore the nature that Nova Scotia has to offer. The physical and mental health benefits have been well documented, especially in the context of pandemic-related restrictions and safety precautions, but Bob and Lynn both emphasize the mutual benefits that volunteering offers. “You’re volunteering your time and effort as a benefit to other people or the province, but the benefits come back to you because you get to go to these amazing places and have these amazing experiences that make you a better person,” says Bob. “It’s a two-way thing. It’s like investing in nature.”

Lynn agrees. “Especially in these last couple of years, even just in the last week or so, there’s nothing like going out for a walk to reset your brain and bring back all of those wonderful feelings of appreciation for the natural world.”

Please join us in thanking Lynn and Bob for their inspiration and their volunteer dedication! To learn more about how Property Guardians help us keep our promise of “forever wild” across our growing network of protected lands, visit our Property Guardians page.

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