CAPE CHIGNECTO - There are a number of reasons why Don Fletcher believes the Eatonville visitor centre needs to be re-opened at Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and the July 10 rescue of two hikers and their dog served as a reminder for one of them.
Had the centre been staffed on that day, the local county councillor believes the hikers could have been better warned about the oncoming tides before setting out for the area near the famous Three Sisters rock formation. Instead, they became stranded and a large-scale rescue effort was put in motion, ending with them being plucked from the beach by a Cormorant helicopter squad from CFB Greenwood.
“We need the visitor centre open, sooner rather than later, for tourists and for instances like that,” said Fletcher, who said council has been urging the province to resolve the matter for the past two years, after the building was closed due to apparent mold issues.
“They keep telling me that they’re going to do an inspection of it, but as far as I know it’s never taken place,” he said. “To make matters worse, while the department of natural resources is in control of the park, they tell me that the department of transportation and infrastructure renewal looks after buildings, so it compounds the problem.”
Having just opened in August of 2009 as Phase 2 of the park’s development, the Eatonville day-use area boasted scenic views of some of the park’s marquee features such as the Three Sisters and the raised beach at Squally Point from safe, engineered viewing platforms, and a visitor centre powered by green energy, fully staffed and equipped for visitors at the opposite end of the massive park from the visitor centre in West Advocate.
Fletcher, a former chairman of the park’s management board, said he looked at the Eatonville phase as a major tourist draw for the area. But perhaps most important was the safety aspect of having staff available to educate visitors about the tides.
“It’s a big park, and if you’re in that end of it… there’s no one time when staff are there on a regular daily basis to direct people and tell them where to go,” he said.
The problem around the Three Sisters, he explained, is that when the tide comes in the beach disappears and any people there will be backed up on to the slippery rocks.
“When we opened up that end of the park, we actually looked to try and get access down to the Three Sisters, but there’s just no area there around the Three Sisters where you can go down and back if the tide is in,” said Fletcher. “That’s also why you can’t walk from Refugee Cove to Mill Brook when the tide is in. The locals know that if you happen to follow the tide you can safely do it, but for tourists, everyone wants to be by the water, and if you go down by the water there’s a chance of getting trapped.”
Getting trapped on the Refugee Cove side of the park is a regular occurrence, according to Anthony Washford, who operates the NovaShores Adventures kayaking business in the area, but he said he had never heard of someone getting trapped on the Eatonville side of the park before.
But in a part of the world where the tide can rise an inch per minute, he did not seem surprised that it happened.
“I think people don’t realize that it comes up so quick,” he said. “Tides all over other places and along the Atlantic shore, obviously they are fair-sized tides, but not the size we have here. The difference between high and low here sometimes is between 39-42 feet, and the beach is very gradual there so when the tide does come in, it really rushes in there and before you know it, you’re suddenly trapped on a little island.”