Nature’s Wayfinder: Denny Emory’s story of stewardship and support 

01 Feb 2024

As the crow flies, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is about 3,750 kilometres from the Ship Rock Islands. It’s also located in one of the wealthiest counties in America, seemingly another far stretch from Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. However, after decades of navigating such distances, Denny Emory landed on the rugged beauty of these 100 Wild Islands in a story perhaps always written in the stars.

Denny pictured on Ship Rock Island in August, 2019

Born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, Denny’s earliest voyages took him to Brooklin, Maine, where his grandmother had a farmhouse on the coast. From age five, Denny spent mostly every summer there, developing strong ties to the community and a passion for sailing, always keen to join others’ boats to serve as an extra hand.

After completing college, graduate school and Army ROTC, Denny went on active duty in the spring of 1973. As the Vietnam War was winding down, he was transferred to the Army Ready Reserve and settled in Jackson Hole. He started an architecture practice there, but by the later 1980s, he became disenchanted by the influx of privilege and development that had transitioned him to designing second homes.

In 1992, Denny learned his brother was taking a sabbatical from his teaching career and was inspired to do the same. “I asked my boss, who thankfully said it was okay,” Denny jokes, given that he worked for himself.

A friend in Maine asked if he’d help crew a 42-foot private yacht on a sail around the world, and Denny jumped at the opportunity. The captain quit upon reaching Tahiti, and Denny was asked to take over the helm. This incredible 3-year adventure led to Denny pursuing his captain’s licence. He then began doing yacht deliveries and new boat owner orientations for The Hinckley Company and Morris Yachts in Southwest Harbour, Maine. Gleeful, Denny recalls, “15 years later, I’d sailed over 100,000 nautical miles and pin-marked 42 countries, all on someone else’s boat while getting paid!”

In the mid-2000s, The Hinckley Company was sold, and Denny’s dear friend Tom Morris passed away. Denny moved along but continued to sail. For several years, he brought one of his former clients’ boats back and forth from the Virgin Islands to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

On one visit, Denny happened upon a listing for an intriguing group of islands for sale and contacted the realtor upon returning to Wyoming. “He told me there was a problem, that this new outfit in town was doing conservation easements, and one had been placed on the property, preventing further development beyond a pre-existing camp.” But Denny wasn’t dissuaded and immediately put through an offer on Ship Rock Islands. The agent called back to say it was accepted, adding,” The seller wants to talk. He thinks he might know your family”.

That seller was environmentalist, naval architect, activist and founding member of the Nature Trust, Rudy Haase. “It turned out Rudy owned a place in Maine just down the coast from my grandmother’s. A conservation pioneer, he and his wife had purchased and protected nearby McGlathery Island, saving it from being clear-cut by a local paper mill. It became where many locals and my family used to go for picnics and explore. Rudy also knew my cousin, who had worked for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the National Land Trust Alliance”.

From left to right, Mickie Haase, Kathi Squires, Rudy Haase and Denny Emory

Following this kismet connection, Rudy and Denny’s friendship deepened. As Denny began spending time in the summers on Ship Rock, he regularly visited Rudy and Mickie in Chester for tea, cookies, and a good talk. “One of Rudy’s regrets was not buying Ship Rock sooner, before the cabin, shed, and pier were built. He told me it broke his heart.” Denny is emotional when speaking more about their shared values and time together. “He had a dream of passing stewardship onward.”

Denny speaking at a 100 Wild Islands event in 2014

“Onward” Denny went. Through Rudy and Ship Rock, he was inspired to become an ardent supporter of the Nature Trust, helping guide and fund various projects, including Troop Island, Rogues Roost, 100 Wild Islands and Twice the Wild. Fittingly, he also arranged for the Nature Trust to be one of his estate’s beneficiaries.

Eventually, visiting Nova Scotia regularly and maintaining the Ship Rock Island group became no longer feasible, and Denny carefully considered what to do.

“I knew I wanted to remove any evidence of the man-made structures and leave the island raked clean.” Ralph Bayers from Ship Harbour committed to doing the work over the New Year of 2022, using a barge to haul out the materials. “It was a surprise when he sent me a photo of all his grandchildren there with rakes in hand, helping with the final clean-up. I replied, ‘I certainly hoped they’re being paid well!’ and was assured I’d be billed for the ice cream,” laughs Denny.

Deconstruction and restoration underway on Ship Rock.

Next, after consulting with estate planners on both sides of the border, Denny realized the best way to ensure the future protection of the island group was to pass it “onward. ” As fate would have it, the Nature Trust was able to purchase the 37 acres (comprised of Ship Rock, Lower Tickle, Upper Tickle and Moose Islands) through our Hope for the Coast initiative, transitioning it from an easement to complete protection within our 100 Wild Islands Conservation Lands.

“I had the best time on Ship Rock. When Murphy’s Island Tours passed, they’d wave and refer to me as the island’s ‘Big Foot,’ out there with the eagles, ospreys, and otters,” recalls Denny. “But most importantly, I will always think about how I was fortunate enough to secure the property from Rudy and follow through on his message of stewardship. The fact that it’s now protected in perpetuity by the Nature Trust is just a ‘wow.'”

Denny Emory still lives in Jackson Hole, running OceanMedix with his business partner, a company selling medical emergency and safety equipment to the marine industry. He spends less time on the ocean, recently swapping boats for boots to coincide with his newfound enthusiasm for distance adventure walking. “You could say I go pillow to pillow, but what I really do is go pub to pub in hopes one of them has a pillow upstairs,” he jokes. He’s already hiked the Camino in Spain, the Southwest Coast Path in England, the Northwest Coast of Wales, and every supported trail in Ireland. This May, he’s returning to Wales to walk 252 miles further down the western coast.

Over the past years, Denny notes his walking pace has slowed, but he’s increasingly content with his wandering ways. “I’ve now hit the phase where I enjoy taking longer and would rather just keep going along the trail than go home.”

As Denny’s explorations continue, we are so grateful that at one time, his wayfinding destined him for Nova Scotia, where he became such a generous friend and honourable steward of nature. And no matter what pillow, rest is assured: the legacy of the Ship Rock Islands and Denny Emory will be cherished for as long as there are winds to sail, stars that align, and birds flying high.

Rudy, Kathi and Denny canoeing in the 100 Wild Islands

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