Recreated wetland, wildlife, nature a step away from downtown in Miner Marsh
BY JENNIFER HOEGG
Kings County Advertiser/Register
A few steps along a path, and you aren’t in Kentville anymore.
Redwing blackbirds flit by, green frogs croak out mating calls, mallard ducklings swim along behind their mother and a splash is heard as a muskrat slips into the water. Tiny minnows flutter in the shallows and a heron may stop in. Holes in old oaks along the slope offer opportunities for mother wood ducks to nest and, earlier this spring, a pair of geese paid an extended visit.
A stroll along the new recreation trails through Miner Marsh is a chance to spend time in the great outdoors, and a “dream come true” for local Ducks Unlimited volunteers and Kentville’s mayor, Dave Corkum.
One trail follows the river, where DU volunteer Gren Jones spotted a salmon headed upstream.
“So many people tend to dump on the Cornwallis River saying it is an open sewer; it’s not as clean as it could be, but it’s beautiful.”
From farm to marsh
The former farmland was last owned by the Miner Family and, most recently, served as pasture. Ducks Unlimited acquired the land in 1994 and a lengthy process of planning began. Sixteen years later, the pasture is a marsh, similar to what the land next to the Cornwallis River may have been like before the Acadian dykes.
“It was still wetland when it was pasture; there were waterfowl,” says Deanne Meadus, DU’s manager of conservation programs in Atlantic Canada. She says the Miner Marsh project is a good example of not only the “impact agriculture has had” on the land, but on how “fallow fields that aren’t economically viable for agriculture can be made viable for wildlife habitat.”
Jones says the new marshland is important: 90 per cent of Annapolis Valley wetlands have disappeared.
Excavators tackled the fallow fields to make canals, trails and nesting and roosting islands.
“We started to upgrade the dyke and do the excavation work and water management structure in late summer and fall 2006,” Meadus says. “It has been an interesting marsh to restore because the land had been manipulated by human impact for hundreds of years.”
All the new plants are courtesy of Mother Nature, Meadus points out: “we build it and let it do its thing.” The rapid naturalization of the former pasture is “indicative of the soil structure and fertility of farmland for restoring back to wetland,” she adds.
“Vegetation and invertebrates respond quickly. Seeds can be viable in the soil for hundreds of years - they are just waiting for the right environment.”
A unique park
Finally, visitors can have a close-up view of the project. A bridge over the Cornwallis River was lifted onto its footings June 21, bringing the marsh within a few steps of downtown. The footbridge can be found just behind the County of Kings building on Cornwallis St.
A number of DU volunteers, town councillors and employees were among the onlookers for the bridge lift. Jones and Corkum were quick to thank DU volunteers, the parks and recreation department, Rotary Club of Kentville, Michelin, Howard Little excavating and other donors of time and money.
There’s more to the dream. Nesting boxes for wood ducks, along with amenities for human visitors - interpretative signage, benches and garbage cans - are planned, along with a grand opening later this summer.
Parks and recreation director Mark Phillips says Kentville and DU are working on a land management agreement: Kentville will manage the trails, while DU manages the habitat.
Visiting the marsh • Don’t litter • Dogs must be leashed • Stay out of the water • Don’t feed the ducks!
The bridge itself is designed to resist floodwaters and vandals, and a belt of cement blocks along the bank will prevent erosion and protect the abutments. A series of gravel trails lead around and through the marsh.
“When you step off the bridge, it is going to be quite dramatic,” Meadus says.
“This is meant for everybody” Jones adds, expressing his hope visitors of the winged and walking variety will all flock to Miner Marsh.
“I just want people to enjoy it.”
All about DU
A national, non-profit organization, Ducks Unlimited was founded in 1938 by a group of people alarmed by the loss of waterfowl habitat in Canada during the Dust Bowl era.
It is now Canada’s largest conservation organization, dedicated not only to habitat preservation but also to research and education on wetlands. Project Webfoot is presented to elementary school children in partnership with other organizations, including Friends of the Cornwallis River locally, each year.
DU has a strong hunting connection, but there is room to “harvest” waterfowl within conservation strategies, as populations number in the millions and only a tiny percentage is killed by hunters.
Volunteers from all walks of life who share an interest in wetlands founded the Valley chapter in 1983. The Valley DU chapter organizes fundraisers, including an annual dinner and auction each spring. The April 2010 dinner raised more than $25,000. Funds raised in Atlantic Canada stay in the region.