The Magical Mabou Highlands: Celebrating a major coastal conservation win in Cape Breton
30 Jul 2019
The last weekend of July was a magical one as we announced an exciting new protected area in Mabou that encompasses 2000 acres of coastal wilderness in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Visitors and locals alike joined us for a weekend full of celebration, including a spectacular guided hike on the Cape Mabou Highlands Hiking Trails and a community celebration in the town of Mabou.
The new Mabou Highlands protected area is the largest coastal conservation win in our 25 year history. It encompasses a vast area of coastline between Mabou and Inverness, in western Cape Breton, stretching six kilometers end-to-end, including 5 kilometers of protected wild coastline, leading from the sea and two and a half kilometers inland to the top of the mountains between Sight Point and south of MacKinnons Brook. They protect some of the last undeveloped coastal lands in Cape Breton.
The Mabou Highlands feature rich old growth hardwood forests, brooks and steep-sided ravines, coastal cliffs, meadows, and a diversity of wildlife including endangered species such as Canada Warbler and Eastern Wood-Pewee.
Over 50 participants experienced the magic of the Mabou Highlands on our Connecting with Nature series guided hike in the morning. Nadine Hunt with the Cape Mabou Trails Club was our expert lead guide for a 2 hour tour of towering hardwood forests and coastal views. In true Cape Breton fashion, we enjoyed a special cliff-top performance on bagpipes by Ian McKinnon, who piped the hikers into view of the spectacular Mabou Mines lookoff.
Later in the afternoon, a packed house at the St. Joseph Renewal Centre in Mabou heard the story of how the Mabou Highlands Conservation Lands were protected largely thanks to thanks to the conservation vision and generosity of a group of American families.
The conservation story began with Carmelita Hinton, who started bringing her family and students from the Putney School in Vermont to Cape Breton in the 1920s. She fell in love with the landscape, and recognized an irreplaceable opportunity to preserve such a vast, intact, naturally, culturally and historically rich coastal landscape. She and later her daughter, Jean Rosner, encouraged colleagues and friends to help acquire and protect neighbouring lands to prevent their development and to ensure continued public access to the coast.
In the late 90s, Jean and fellow landowner David Rumsey discovered that Nova Scotia now had a land trust, and reached out for help. Together they began planning how to bring a large-scale, multi-landowner conservation vision to fruition.
The Treat, Walworth and Learnard families took a leadership role early on, protecting their lands at Sight Point through conservation easements, and later Bob and Lee-Ann Kinzer protected over 200 acres south of MacKinnon’s Brook.
And then, in the last year, momentum grew significantly, and big things began to happen. First, David Rumsey and his wife Abby donated a conservation easement on their spectacular 280 acre property overlooking MacKinnon’s Brook. David, a retired developer, also offered to reach out to his fellow landowners to try to reignite their interest in a collaborative, large scale land conservation effort. His perseverance and determination paid off, helping the Nature Trust to piece together 11 new properties, encompassing 1500 acres of land, consolidating much of what is now a 2000 acre coastal preserve.
“Abby and I are honoured to be part of this multigenerational effort to secure the Mabou Highlands for present and future generations”, says Rumsey. “We are inspired by and grateful to the Mabou community who steward these lands and the history of their people—historian Jim St. Clair, trailblazer Ian Sherman, and Cape Mabou Trail Club volunteer Nadine Hunt, among many others. We are thrilled that the Nova Scotia Nature Trust will now ensure that the Mabou Highlands are protected forever.”
According to Nadine Hunt of the Cape Mabou Trail Club, the protection of this area and its hiking trails is significant for the local community and its future, too: “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.”
This major conservation achievement was part of our historic “Lasting Landscapes” campaign, an ambitious land conservation effort launched last year. The campaign was supported by the Government of Canada’s Nature Fund, part of a national commitment to protect 17% of Canada’s lands for biodiversity by 2020.
Significant funding also came from the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust and generous individuals and families who donated to help the Nature Trust meet the ambitious Lasting Landscapes targets, including a very generous $600,000 from David and Abby. In all 17 new protected areas were secured across Nova Scotia, including the Mabou Highlands.
More on the Horizon
And there’s more good news for the Mabou Highlands to come. A large block of Crown land adjoins the new conservation lands, and is pending designation as the Cape Mabou Wilderness Area. Together, the combined provincial and Nature Trust protected areas will encompass over 6000 acres of contiguous habitat.
In addition, landowners inspired by the announcement have approached us about adding their own lands to the Mabou Highlands legacy, so the protected area is set to expand and we here at the Nature Trust are readying ourselves for more conservation work in the days ahead.
Be a Part of the Legacy
The Nature Trust promises to protect our conservation lands, including the Mabou Highlands, in perpetuity. With all these new lands under our care, we are also seeking volunteers to help with the ongoing monitoring and stewardship of the Mabou Highlands and over 100 other Nature Trust protected areas across the province.