Saving the Mahone Bay Islands
Association dedicated to conservation and continued recreational access.
By: Lynn R. Helpard (Photos &Text)
Progress is a hard word to define. Building 40 homes on a beautiful island is seen as progress to some, while others see progress when the same island is turned into a conservatory. A new association is working diligently to find and implement a balance between the economic needs of development and the needs/desires of the many people who want to preserve these treasures. The greater Mahone Bay area offers some of the finest boating in the east, if not the world. Boaters of all types, from kayakers to cruisers, have long enjoyed this pristine environment and the privilege of using some of the islands for picnics, camping and excursions.
All that, however, seemed in jeopardy when Strum Island, a 14-acre beauty located in the entrance to Mahone Bay Harbour, was sold and development of seven properties began. A group of concerned locals and outside visitors got together to discuss the situation, which led to the formalization of the Mahone Island Conservation Association (MICA), led by Chair Michael Ernst, in March 2003.
With an active and concerned membership of 340 and growing, the mandate of MICA is "To conserve and protect the natural environment of the shoreline and the islands of Mahone Bay and the traditional, social and recreational opportunities valued by its various communities."
To achieve its objectives, the association is hoping to acquire some islands and turn them into provincially owned conservation areas for public use, and perhaps become stewards of them as well. As a first step to gathering the $2.5 million estimated to achieve this goal, the group has put together a detailed funding proposal that has been seen by several government officials and ministers. Reaction has been positive and the Township of Lunenburg has already made encouraging noises if the other levels of government get involved.
MICA has also started an oral history program of the islands, interviewing locals about the life and times from the 1920s onward, which they plan to publish in the fullness of time.
While most of the work is done on a volunteer basis, funding is being raised through membership dues of $10.00, foundation donations and fundraisers such as last year's sold-out art auction and dinner at the Oak Island Resort and Spa that raised some $16,500. It is hoped that other interested parties such as corporations will get on board and that members will make pledges of meaningful amounts to get things really moving.
Most of the islands in the Mahone Bay area are privately owned, and there are plans for more development. The law allows access to the high water mark, but some owners are claiming water rights and putting up "no trespassing" signs. So, MICA feels there is some urgency to its mandate. As Ernst explains, "boaters have a privilege, not a right, to use an area and a responsibility to leave an area visited as clean or cleaner than they found it. Our association is an active voice in an effort to protect and keep these islands for future generations."
With Strum Island marketed for US$4.9 million, Andrew's Island for $900,000 and Goat Island at $250,000, it is obvious that if this wonderful boating area is to be preserved, the association headed by Ernst and his conscientious board has its work cut out.
And recently, MICA's offer to purchase the 20-acre Andrew's Island located to the left of the entrance to Mahone Bay was accepted by the Andrews family. MICA plans to mount a pledge campaign soon.
New members and inquiries are welcome. MICA is holding its 2004 Art Auction and Dinner on November 24.