Conservation groups have done a lot of work lately to give people virtual access to important ecological areas in the Maritimes, but if it makes you want to go in person this summer, there are special precautions to take, according to two people who make a living promoting outdoor adventures.
“These are not the places we want to start bushwhacking,” said Jan-Sebastian LaPierre of Dartmouth-based marketing firm A For Adventure.
You probably shouldn’t go with a large group, LaPierre said, and you should try “to exercise the lightest touch possible.”
The public can visit many environmentally sensitive areas, he said, if there is the right infrastructure, such as boardwalks and trails.
LaPierre’s business partner, Chris Surette, said he recently noticed a trend for conservation groups to create interactive maps and videos to try to spread awareness and love of wetlands and rare habitats.
The New Brunswick Nature Trust has done a lot of mapping, he said.
A “cool” example is the Meduxnekeag Valley Nature Reserve.
The Meduxnekeag is a tributary of the Saint John River, he noted, and the preserve includes more than 1,000 acres of rare Appalachian hardwood forest.
According to the Nature Trust, more than 180 species of trees, plants, lichens and mosses live here, including 43 rare species and several found nowhere else in Atlantic Canada.
“These forests have been nearly eradicated from their native range in Carleton and Victoria counties,” the group’s website says.
Thanks to the trails and light infrastructure, more than 3,000 students a year can visit the reserve, he said. They have fun identifying plants using the iNaturalist app or geocaching and also learn something in the process.
Ultimately, it’s about teaching them about nature, Surette said, and creating a culture of understanding the importance of conservation.
The St. Mary’s River Association in Nova Scotia has also just launched an online map project, LaPierre said.
The Canadian Heritage River is well known for salmon fishing, he said, but is home to many other species and has beautiful “hills” along its banks.
It took decades to consolidate some of the properties, he said, on a mix of private and public land, but there are now many access points for those wishing to travel by boat, bicycle or on foot. .
“They’ve done an amazing job,” LaPierre said, “to create something that will hopefully last for generations and generations.”
Surette and LaPierre have been personally involved in a few other mapping projects, in conjunction with the Canadian Wildlife Service.
One of these includes Big Glace Bay Beach, which is surrounded by the community of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.
It’s “very, very important” nesting grounds for piping plovers, LaPierre said, as well as a host of other shorebirds that pass by.
All ecosystems are fragile, LaPierre said, including those we are closest to.
“It’s easy to get excited about waterfalls and lush valleys,” he said, “while the ones we visit most often probably need our help the most.”
Another of the mapping projects they have worked on involves the Shepody Hills south of Moncton on the Fundy shore.
They created the video above in collaboration with naturalist, poet and author Harry Thurston.
Shepody Hills had lots of human habitation for a long time, LaPierre said, and has now returned to a more natural state.
Another important natural area is nestled next to the community of Kentville, Surette said, in Nova Scotia’s fertile Annapolis Valley.
Ducks Unlimited is piloting an interactive map project of Miner’s Marsh.
It used to be farmland, Surette said, but it was wet “all the time.” The Miner family has entered into an agreement to transfer the land and have it restored to its natural and protected state.
It opened as a nature reserve in 2010, Surette said, and is “absolutely thriving”.
Hundreds of people visit daily, he said, using its walking and cycling trails.
When you zoom out on the Ducks Unlimited interactive map, you can see the amount of water on it, right next to the city.
The most sensitive areas are “usually the ones that aren’t sexy,” Surette said.
Peaty wetlands and salt marshes “don’t get a lot of love,” he said.
They are considered “mosquito infested” places that are “musty and a little smelly”.
But they are “unsung heroes” of the natural world.
They prevent flooding, retain and purify water, are “really great” at capturing carbon, and provide “incredible infrastructure” for plants and animals.
“We try to keep those systems intact,” LaPierre said.
“Leave no trace principles are absolutely important here.”