There’s a saying that nothing worth having comes easy. As Moncton’s only true nature park, Irishtown is a living testament to this truism. It took close to three decades to transform Irishtown reservoir (2200 acres) surrounded by a dense, inaccessible ‘wilderness area’ into a vibrant, beloved nature park. However, doing so without changing important natural infrastructure and functions of various ecosystems was (and continues to be) a daunting task. Heather Fraser, a professional outdoor educator and nature guide for Explore Nature’s Bounty, has worked in the forestry sector for over 40 years. She was involved in the park from its infancy and even helped the city develop its initial forestry plan for the area in the 1980s. According to Fraser, it was extremely important to everyone involved in the project that it was done “the right way.” Long before its system of trails and boardwalks could be built, they first had to figure out what they were actually trying to protect. This involved assessing habitats, identifying various tree species throughout the reservoir, conducting flora and fauna inventories, bird and fish studies and so much more. Trails were meticulously planned and mapped to ensure that their placement was sustainable (both for the useability of the trail and for conservation purposes) with a long-term vision.
Unlike other neighboring Moncton parks such as Centennial and Mapleton, the community was involved in Irishtown’s creation from the ground up. Several public engagement meetings were conducted to invite the community to express concerns and desires for the development of this new nature park. Over 25 local groups and organizations volunteered to be part of the Irishtown Nature Park Committee including the local area school district, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, nonprofits, Nature Moncton, Canoe NB, the Elmwood North Community Association, John Howard Society, to name a few, and even the PWA! Heather hired a contractor from Sussex who used horses one winter to selectively harvest trees from sections of forest that were hit hard with spruce budworm damage and posed a potential forest fire risk. The contractor had a portable band sawmill and processed the larger wood, and used it to construct boardwalks and bridges. The John Howard Society was involved in building this infrastructure under City supervision (Heather) which became the first trails in the Irishtown Nature Park that are still used today. Over the last few years this initial infrastructure is being replaced with new boardwalks and bridges. More often than not, sustainable projects like this one are slow, meticulous, and take time due to the large size of this nature park. ‘Sustainability’ is not an end destination, it is an ongoing process, adding new updated inventories, trail usage/signage plans and possible trail expansion opportunities in the future. While the park has proved to be loved by many, this does not mean that increased human activity in the area has not had its consequences. The reservoir routinely experiences blooms of toxic (cyanobacteria) blue-green algae leaving the water closed to recreation for canoers and kayakers for parts of the summer.
Take some time for yourself this season and walk the various trails around the Irishtown Nature Park. Bring binoculars or a picnic lunch and listen to the sounds of birds and croaking frogs. While you’re at it, why not enter our giveaway! For a chance to win a guided interpretive tour of Fundy led by Heather Fraser thanks to Explore Nature’s Bounty, post a photo, tag us, and use #25watershedmoments.