ECONOMY, N.S. — The Cliffs of Fundy Geopark is helping people learn about the epic geological wonders along the Bay of Fundy this summer through outdoor walks in the natural landscape.
Throughout July, free tours led by park geoscientist Caleb Grant have been alternating between Thomas Cove in Economy and Ward Falls outside of Parrsboro. With more certainty as COVID restrictions lift, a third beach walk tour along the coast of Cape Chignecto Provincial Park in West Advocate is being added to the August schedule.
“Even as someone who's been familiar with this place, I've learned so much more about how to look at it differently,” said Geopark administrative assistant Leah Benetti, who grew up in Debert. “It's a different experience to be in an environment and have things pointed out ... to have a person you can ask questions to in these types of guided tours makes it a super different learning experience.”
At Thomas Cove on a hot and sunny day, adventurers including families and a variety of ages met at the Thomas Cove Trail parking lot, maintained by the Kenomee Trails Society.
Millions of years of geological history
Gesturing to the surrounding natural beauty, Grant tosses out huge numbers, time travelling through millions of years in a mere moment – from Pangea forming 300 million years ago, splitting apart into continents 200 million years later, and continuing to reshape and form geological wonders.
“That whole story is captured down the bay, each stop you make,” said Grant. “If you make a drive down through the Geopark here, there's a storyline that goes all the way, from one end to the other. From Lower Truro and Debert, way down to the rocky cliffs of Cape Chignecto."
After a descent down a rope along a bank (an alternative route is offered for those not comfortable using the rope), a large portion of the tour traverses a wide sandstone ledge, formed over 200 million years ago in the Fundy Rift Valley.
Some till is from when glaciers scraped overtop of the red highlands. Rings, thick and thin, ridged, and smooth, indicate things like former riverbeds or large sand dunes.
“If something had gone just slightly differently in the history of the world, everybody living in Halifax, everybody lives in Lunenburg, they would be part of Morocco, or part of some piece of South America,” said Grant.
Visible is the Brick Kiln island (known as “The Submarine” to those on the other side of the bay) where people have died, not realizing they would be stranded by the tide. Visible on a recent sunny day were Five Islands, Cape Sharp just outside of Parrsboro and on the opposite side, Cape Blomidon.
It is a tactile experience too, as participants rub coarse sand between their fingers and walk over a variety of terrain – sinking sand, slippery and firm rocks and wooded trails. For a special demonstration at the end, participants smushed an Oreo cookie treat in their hands to mimic how gravity and motion crack the layers.
The Geopark also hopes to connect geology with local culture.
“The Indigenous storyline (of these landscapes) is actually fantastic for reliving a lot of these (geological) stories because these people lived here, while this ice was still happening; 13,500 years ago, there's evidence that there were people living in this area,” he said. “People were living alongside glaciers.”
Steve Johnson and Rosemary Rowntree moved to Parrsboro five years ago, just as things started ramping up for the future Geopark, and helped during the UNESCO evaluation process. They loved the tour experience and planned to join at Ward Falls the following week.
“It was wonderful,” said Rowntree. “Caleb is a gentle teacher ... he can tell wonderful stories, and all of a sudden you realize you've had all this knowledge sort of poured over you – and I hope it sticks. You can learn so much … out there, it's (such) rugged, natural beauty.”
Johnson recommends it to anyone, no matter the age.
“For me, his enthusiasm for what he's talking about came through," said Johnson. “He seems to be generally a man who is spending his life doing what he loves to do. That makes tours like this just doubly better.”
Benetti and Grant were hired six months ago, and the pair said the experience has been a “whirlwind.” It has been a strange time during the COVID pandemic.
“This is a new concept for us with the Geopark, especially coming out of COVID," said Benetti. “With things kind of opening up so fast ... we've had to adapt pretty quickly.”
Grant said while the Bay of Fundy is beautiful, locals might not think about the stories to be told in the rocks they are looking at. And the learning opportunities are growing.
“A couple of years ago this was, and still is, largely kind of a bit of a hidden gem, but there are so many kinds of pieces that are starting to come online,” said Grant. “So many different adventures you can do – you want to go by boat, by plane, helicopter, horseback, on foot with us... there's something for everybody here. I think people just need to come experience it.”
The Geopark recently had its one-year anniversary on July 10 since officially being designated a UNESCO Geopark, and is planning a big celebration on Aug. 22 at Five Islands Lighthouse Park, as more COVID restrictions lift. One day prior, there will be a special two-kilometre guided tour from the park to the Old Wife Formation at 5 p.m.
“The Geopark has to be the most exciting thing to happen to this area in the last 50 years," said Johnson. “I don't think people really realize the impact it's going to have on tourism, accommodations... we're very excited about it.”
Those living around the Bay of Fundy, home to the world’s highest tides, know to be careful to check the tide times. Changing about 15 m at about 20 km/h within six hours, the water can move in and out deceivingly fast. Coastal tours are scheduled accordingly.
On the tour, Grant also points out spots of coastal erosion, with trees precariously hanging on as they jut out from the cliff. Along the wooded trail, he warns people not to get too close to the edge – what appears as firm land is often hollowed out underneath, prevalent throughout Nova Scotia’s coastline.
The Thomas Cove tour lasted about 1.5 hours and covered approximately two kilometres, with plenty of stops to learn about and be immersed in the natural landscape. The Ward Falls tour is a longer, seven-kilometre round trip, estimated to be 2.5 hours, experiencing a temperate river valley.
Benetti said the guided tours typically cover areas that do not have any, pointing to several existing organizations that already lead “fantastic” tours throughout the Geopark.
Those planning to take part should email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot. Everyone who attends a tour should wear sturdy footwear and outdoor attire.
Remaining tours (starting at 10:30 a.m.):
- July 28 – Thomas Cove
- Aug. 4 – West Advocate
- Aug. 11 – West Advocate
- Aug. 18 – Ward Falls
- Aug. 25 – Thomas Cove
- Sept. 1 – Ward Falls
- July 30 (10:30 a.m – 2 p.m.) – Cape d’Or with Local Guy Adventures ($45/person, four kilometres)
- Aug. 1 (1 – 3 p.m.) – Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) tour from visitor centre to barrier beach near Parrsboro (free, up to three kilometres)
- Aug. 21 (5 – 7 p.m.) – Five Islands Tour to the Old Wife Formation (free, two kilometres)