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Connecting on West Ironbound Island

For many of us who have enjoyed the natural beauty of Hirtle’s Beach, part of the charm is the view of West Ironbound Island just off of Gaff Point. West Ironbound Island is in full view from all of Hirtle’s Beach and has served for generations as a pearl of intrigue for those of us without a boat to reach its shores.

I can remember as a kid daydreaming of the wilds that might be out there, so close, but just out of swimming distance. The temptation proved too great for a couple of my childhood friends who one day decided they would lash two canoes together to make the journey from the beach. This was true adolescent-engineered stability! With rope and duct tape holding the canoes together, they set off for uncharted territory. The island was as far as I had dreamed at the time and hearing of the success of this canoe/raft trip sent my ideas of what was possible into orbit. Eventually, I learned to sail and made my own trip to the island, but its allure remains.

These days, West Ironbound is now conserved and travel to the island is much easier. The KCC organizes two trips a summer from Riverport for those wishing to explore West Ironbound. For those with their own dingy equipped vessel, the KCC maintains a boat mooring on the west side of the island free for public use.

Since the KCC began its stewardship of the island, we have established a clear trail around the perimeter of the island. The trail is well signed and features elevated views of Hartling Bay and Hirtle’s Beach as well as the LaHave Islands to the west. The island is home to 40+/- semi-feral sheep who have also adopted the trail as their own. They are timid of visitors but their presence is evidenced by the strands of fleece combed out by the trees and branches along the trail. For those visiting the island, sturdy footwear is recommended as the ground is uneven and there are more than a few thistles in the pastures.

For the better part of 15 years, the Nova Scotia Sea School has used West Ironbound Island to host summer camps for groups of teenage girls. Twice a summer they arrive with all their food, water and camping needs to remain self-sufficient for their stay. The girls learn practical skills such as shelter building, fire starting, plant and wild edibles identification. They also learn developmental skills such as leadership enhancement, solo reflection, and teamwork strategies.

Last summer, for the first time, the KCC were invited to collaborate with the Sea School to work on island maintenance projects. This was a win-win for everyone involved as the projects. The campers had the satisfaction of contributing to a greater purpose and the island got a brand new outhouse and freshly painted buildings—two large tasks that we were eager to accomplish.

The Outhouse

Some of the wood for the outhouse was ferried out to the island with the help of Gerald Mossman (M/V Olde Moss) and Jake Wentzell (KCC workboat) but much of the framing was made from trees that had blown over in the previous winter storms. This wood had to be stripped of its bark and prepared for installation. The campers learned how to use various hand tools to prepare the wood as well as work from rough construction blueprints.

It was a true pleasure to work with such youthful energy and a delight to see their eagerness to learn. Many of the girls had never even swung a hammer before so I had my own challenges in how to teach basic carpentry. I’m happy to say no one lost any limbs and although there may have been a bruised thumb or two, the outhouse turned out wonderfully and now affords stunning vistas of Mosher’s Island and the mouth of the LaHave, or, as the girls dubbed it, “a pooh with a view!”

The Painted Cabin

The second project was entirely dependent on good, dry weather. Fortunately, mother nature blessed us with perfect August painting weather and with the help of WIBI Stewardship volunteer Amanda Ring, we joined the campers for another work project. Once again, most were new to painting so a fresh round of technique demonstration and practice rounds started the day. After the scraping was complete (no one’s favourite part), everyone was given a roller or brush to begin the painting. The girls were quick to pick it up and we soon learned we had our hands full just keeping everyone’s paint buckets filled. The cabin was bone dry and absorbed the paint spectacularly.

The before and after of the West Ironbound Island cabin.

The KCC West Ironbound Stewardship Committee is very grateful for the hard work and enthusiasm of the campers and we look forward to the opportunity for more collaborative projects in the summer ahead.

For anyone interested in enrolling their kids in the NS Sea School programs see their website for details here… https://www.seaschool.org/welcome.

Anyone interested in making a day trip to West Ironbound Island this summer is heartily invited to do so by their own means. Those without their own boats can contact kingburgcoastalconservancy@gmail.com for more info on our 2 public summer trips ($60 per person). Alternatively, private charters can be arranged through Liz Drake at Creaser’s Cove boat tours out of Riverport (902-521-2061).

Happy hiking everyone!

Jefferson Muise