WENTWORTH – It is suspected that a favourite summer getaway in the Wentworth Valley has been tarnished by a Northern Pulp clear-cut which was cut into the side of Higgins mountain last summer.
“After the rain we had the other day I was up and walked into those falls, and for the first time in my life they were as brown as brown can be. You couldn’t see a single rock, you couldn’t see one millimetre into the water. The level of siltation was profound. I couldn’t believe it,” said Gregor Wilson. “If you’re standing in it in the summertime up to your thighs you can see your feet, and now you can’t see your feet. The only thing upstream is Northern Pulp.”
Wilson, purchased the Wentworth Falls, along with 220 surrounding acres, with the intent to protect the area and develop it for tourism. He said there was a plan to subdivide the property into plots but he bought the property to keep it whole and turn it into a park-like area for free public use.
“Because it is so close to the road I want to include wheelchair access and bicycle access. You can drive your bike to the falls and have a picnic there.”
Wilson has lived in Wentworth off and on for 30 years, and has been a fulltime resident for the past five years, and siltation at the falls was only one of several concerns Wilson, the director of Ski Wentworth, expressed at a public meeting Saturday at the Wentworth Recreation Centre.
“I love the area and it’s where my heart and passions lie,” he told the crowd of close to 200 at the recreation centre.
He believes forestry and tourism can co-exist.
“There needs to be people working in the woods. I fully support that and fully believe that, and I’m working on some forestry projects myself, sort of on the low-impact end of the scale instead of industrial sized clearcutting.”
But he feels betrayed by the clear-cut on the side of Higgins Mountain, which is visible from Highway 4, the main road passing through the Wentworth Valley.
“The clear cut in the Valley upset me. We worked with Scott Paper back in the day, and I personally worked with Kimberly Clark many years ago to map the youth hostel trails,” said Wilson. “Northern pulp, I know staff there and I know some of the GPS planners doing some of the work, and nobody reached out and said, ‘hey, what do you think of this (clear-cut).’”
Wilson would like to develop the area into a four-season tourism destination but many hurdles stand in his way. Besides the possibility of more clearcutting he is also concerned about a proposed gold mine.
“People don’t understand about the gold mine yet because DNR (the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources) has not been very forthcoming with information,” said Wilson.
Gold mining maps are being provided to prospectors but not to people living in the area.
“They won’t even give us a map and they’re giving it away free to this gold mining conference in March. They’re giving it away for free to gold mining people and won’t share it with their own citizens.”
He says DNR has the right to build a mine in the middle of Ski Wentworth.
“They would have to get it approved, but they can come in and start staking our property, the youth hostel property and the trails up there. They can do that right now and we can’t stop them,” said Wilson. “That doesn’t give business much certainty when you have a looming gold mine hanging over your head and over your property. Why would you invest millions of dollars in the local economy for four-season tourism when you don’t know if a gold mine may be on your doorstep the next year.”
Clear cuts and gold mines aren’t the only obstacles in the way of building a four-season destination. There is also a proposed 4,000-acre Wentworth Wilderness Area next to Ski Wentworth awaiting approval.
“I was told five years ago a decision would be made any day and here we are in 2018.”
He says Ski Wentworth is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Nova Scotia.
“It often has twice the annual visits that Kejimkujik (National Park) sees in a single year and their season is twice as long as ours. So Ski Wentworth is a pretty big players on the provincial attraction scene,” said Wilson. “On one of our good years we see as many (tourists) as Fortress of Louisbourg, which is one biggest attractions in the entire province.”
He says nature tourism is becoming more popular and he wants to adapt to that new reality.
“Future plans at Ski Wentworth could include a new ski lift, lodge upgrades and, if and when those things happen, the next logical thing is to have a hotel at the base so an asset is not sitting there underutilized for three quarters of the year," said Wilson. "If Ski Wentworth were to go four-season I think it would boost the economy in the region.”
He hopes people who attended the meeting put pressure on government to create a long-term vision for tourism in the Wentworth Valley and keep its natural beauty intact.
“If people are upset about some of the things we spoke about I hope they write their MLA if it’s a provincial jurisdiction or write their councilor if it’s a municipal jurisdiction,” said Wilson. “I’d like to see people get involved. Run for council, run for office, write letters to the editor, write letter to the premier and write letters to the warden of the county.”