Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fees at Fundy National Park 2012: Early Bird Pass

Visitors to Fundy National Park must pay an entrance fee (note if you are simply driving along the highway through the park, and not stopping anywhere in the park, you do not need to pay a fee). The complete schedule of fees for 2012 for both entries and for activities is given here.   If you anticipate being in the park for more than a few days, the best value is to purchase an annual pass, good for one year (for example the fee for an adult for one day is $7.80 while the annual pass for one adult is $39.20).  Note that the entrance fee must be paid in addition to any fees for camping if you are staying overnight.

Reductions of 25% are available until June 14 by purchasing an "Early Bird" pass.  For example, the annual fee for an adult drops to $31.20.  The park also has a family annual pass at an early bird rate of $78.50 versus the normal fee of $98.10.  The park have fees for individuals, for seniors (defined as 65+) and other possibilities. Information on all of the Fundy National Park fee options is available at this link. You can purchase your "Early Bird" pass in advance by phoning the park at 506-887-6000 and after purchasing the pass using a credit card they will either mail it to you, or you can pick it up on your next visit to the park.

When in the park don't forget to place your signed pass, or daily receipt, clearly visible inside the windshield whenever you park. You will also need to show proof of payment when you sign up for additional park services such as campground fees.  Even if you normally just purchase one or two daily passes for visits to Fundy National Park, why not make 2012 the year you purchase an annual pass and take full advantage of this diverse and wonderful location?  Also, a park pass makes a wonderful gift for a friend or family member.  Complete information on the annual passes for Fundy National Park, including the "Early Bird" rates are given here

If you plan to visit more than one national park this summer, your best value though is to purchase a national park annual pass that grants access to more than one hundred Canadian national parks, marine conservation areas and national historic sites. The cost is not much more than a pass to a single national park (e.g. the fee for a family national pass is $136.40). As an added convenience, you can purchase the national pass online here.  Even if your summer plans just include the Maritimes, remember that there are five national parks (Fundy, Kouchibouguac, Kejimkujik, Cape Breton Highlands, and Prince Edward Island) so you may well want a national park pass. I have reproduced here a map showing the national parks (in green) and the national historic sites (in red) for the Atlantic region. Of course the discovery pass gives you entrance not just to the parks of this region but right across Canada.

By the way, if the fees look familiar here they are - the government have held the rates at the same rate as last year.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Albert County's Mining Past

It was announced yesterday that New Brunswick was rated the top international location in terms of environment for the mining industry. While readers will undoubtedly have different reactions, one might be surprise, since in the southern half of the province, with the exception of the potash mines in the Sussex area, does not have an obvious current mining presence.  It was not always so, however, and the mining history of the Albert County area is a fascinating story.

Albert County has over the years been home to the mining of precious metals including gold and silver; industrially important materials including lead, zinc, copper, and manganese; building materials including sandstone, gravel, and gypsum; and petroleum products including natural gas, albertite, oil and gas. The mining techniques employed have included conventional underground techniques, open pit, surface collection and a variety of small scale recovery techniques. 

The area with the richest and most extensive mining history are the nearby communities of Curryville and Albert Mines.  Although copper and manganese were also mined there, the area is best known for two materials: albertite and gypsum. Albert Mines, and the remains from its mining past, are listed in Canada's Historic PlacesThe Albert Mines listing in Canada's Historic Places notes: "Albert Mines was the site of the first commercial extraction of petroleum products anywhere in the world."  Albertite is a shiny black (or occasionally dark brown) crumbly rock that is very rich (more than 50%) in volatile material.  It played a key role in the development of kerosene which replaced whale oil for lighting, and some say that the development helped save whales from extinction.

The photo montage (from the listing in Canada's Historic Places) illustrates Albert Mines at the peak of its mining past and currently.  Now the site has a variety of tailings piles, and the remains of several buildings.  

The former government geologist and inventor, Dr. Abraham Gesner (1797-1864) developed a process for making kerosene from bitumen, and is apparently the discoverer of albertite in 1839.  His early experiments found that albertite was best suited for kerosene extraction, and he sought a licence from the government to mine and develop albertite.  While albertite was originally found under uprooted trees, a flood in 1850 revealed a huge deposit in Albert Mines. There was a dispute between Gesner and a rival company who had coal rights in the area and claimed that included albertite.  The feud got so bitter that guns were even drawn at the mine site on at least one location.  The rival company was granted the rights, a court decision viewed in retrospect as incorrect since albertite is distinctly different from coal.  Albertite was aggressively mined from 1854 to 1884 at Albert Mines.

Dr. Abraham Gesner, who was both a medical doctor and a professional geologist,  had a number of other achievements, including starting Canada's first public museum in 1842 (that went on to become the current New Brunswick Museum).  He had a number of links with the Bay of Fundy region, including being born in the Annapolis Valley, being twice shipwrecked early in life, and serving as a physician in the Parrsboro area. The bitter dispute over albertite, and lost court case, cast an unfortunate pall over the latter part of his life.

To visit the location one turns right onto the paved Albert Mines road from Hwy 114 at Edgett's Landing if driving from Moncton towards Fundy National Park.  If driving in the opposite direction, from Fundy towards Moncton, you turn left at Cape Station (this is not well marked but it is the first road after leaving a marsh, a small bridge then a slight rise with hay fields on your right).  If you have reached Hopewell Rocks you have gone too far.  The map shown below will help guide you.

When driving along this road from Fundy toward Moncton, in the community of Curryville, on your left are extensive tailings from the gypsum mining operation.  White gypsum stones are obvious from the road.  As you proceed further, near a church in Albert Mines, and just before the road takes a steep uphill path, there is a side road on the left, and the site of the Albert Mines complex was here.  There are only slight signs of this past, and you may need assistance from local residents in finding the right location.

Some of the best gypsum in the world was mined here in a huge open pit operation (there were other gypsum facilities in the province including one near Hillsborough).  The Curryville gypsum facility was operated from 1854 until 1980.

One of the trails in Fundy National Park, Coppermine, travels near the coast ending at the remnants from an early mine.  There remains only a pile of tailings, and bits from an old boiler.  While you can't remove rocks (or anything) from national parks, if you are lucky you can find a few bits of copper in the tailings (natural copper is greenish, not copper in colour).  Even though the mine remnants are not impressive, the trail is an easy and pleasant walk through interesting forests with a number of foot bridges over tiny streams. There are a few vistas of the coast during the return walk (most of the trail is divided so you return closer to the coast than you travel out). The trail head starts just off the parking lot that is on the opposite side of the road from the Point Wolfe campground.

Those wanting to make a comprehensive stop at the important mining locations within Albert County have a number of other stops to consider.  One location that you will have to view from afar is Grindstone Island.  This was one of the early stone quarry sites in the area, and the location of the lighthouse furthest up the bay. It is a nature preserve, important for bird nesting for a number of species, and is mainly owned by the Sackville parish of the Anglican Church, with the area right around the lighthouse owned by the Government of Canada. You can see Grindstone Island, that is just off the coast from the village of Hillsborough, as you travel along route 114 from Fundy National Park to Moncton.

Something I only learned in researching this column was the manganese mining in the Waterside area, one of my favourite locations (see my other posting on the incredible Waterside Beach).  Apparently the mine was active between and 1875-1877, although I don't know the precise location.  More interestingly, a non-invasive method of manganese extraction was used in the Dawson Settlement area further up the county.  The Virtual Museum exhibit describes the process this way "Bog manganese is not mined but is instead harvested. Underground streams carry manganese up to the surface, the manganese is then deposited at an outlet of the stream on the surface. This manganese then forms into a bog. The manganese harvested from this bog must first be dried before it can be sold." Apparently this was done from about 1897-1901.

Both conventional oil drilling (and natural gas production) and oil shale have been used in Albert County.  Several times in the past decades oil wells in the Weldon and Stoney Creek area (near route 114 between Hillsborough and Riverview) have been operational. In fact by 1925 a total of 66 wells had been drilled in the Stoney Creek area.  Oil shale refers to sedimentary rock rich in shale oil.  Given the larger cost of extraction compared to light oil, it has only been commercially harvested on a limited basis, mainly in Scotland, but that might change with rising prices that might make it economical. Given the current huge debate (a drive through any part of the province will see 'No 
Shale Gas' signs) in the province on proposed shale gas production through hydrofracking, it is interesting to consider the province's history in shale petroleum.

There are a number of good sources for additional information online including the Community Memories Virtual Museum exhibit prepared by the Albert County Museum (select the one on Mining in Albert County). As well as comprehensive written descriptions that site includes a number of historical photos. Another good source of information is the listing in Canada's Historic PlacesThe NBCC historical resources have a nice section on Dr. Abraham Gesner and also one on Albertite. Of course the Albert County Museum should be a stop on any visit to the Bay of Fundy region.

©R.L. Hawkes. Publications wishing to print this story should contact for permission.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winter at Fundy National Park

The federal budget cuts to Canada's National Park system has meant that park operations outside the summer operating system have been significantly restricted.  Fortunately, volunteers from the Ski Chignecto group have stepped in to groom the ski trails in the park.  While most visitors naturally choose summer for visiting the bay region for obvious reasons, the park has a lot to offer in winter as well.  Late winter is often the best time to experience Fundy in the winter since the days are longer and the days are often warm and sunny. 

Users of the trail system are asked to purchase a pass from the Chignecto Ski Club.  This can be done in person at Cleveland Place, 8580 Main St. in Alma just outside the park entrance (this is a large white house on the opposite side of the road from the bay). Annual memberships are $15 per person, or $40 for the whole family.  See details at the Chignecto Ski Club website.

The park has an extensive set of groomed cross country ski trails at Chignecto South (the opposite side of the main road from the main campground). Detailed information, including a map, provided by the the Chignecto Ski Club is shown here - it also includes the snowshoe trails.

There is a parking lot with toilets providing lots of parking, and the trails are clearly marked and there are a variety of trails of differing lengths and challenge. If you are relatively inexperienced the best options are the pink (1.7 km) and green (2.8 km) trails, or the one on the Chignecto North campground (2.0 km).  All of these are relatively level, wide, well marked and good for even novice skiiers (like me!).   The following picture shows a typical part of the green trail.

Note that the 7.5 km yellow trail has steep downhill and should only be attempted by experts. You can get a report on current conditions from the Facebook group linked from the Chignecto Ski Club site.

For those who prefer to toboggan the best area is the bowl shaped lawns just across the road from the information house at the top of the hill after you enter from Alma. If you would rather snowshoe, a number of the trails are open to this (see map). If you don't have your own snowshoes you can rent them at Cleveland Place in Alma.

Because the salt water keeps the tidal zone ice free, when the snow cover is not too high to prevent beach access a short stroll on the Alma beach is remarkably peaceful.  I fondly remember a day when we visited there a couple of years ago.  Even though there was a lot of snow on the ground, but as you can see in the following photo from my Alma beach walk the sand was great walking. While the open beach remains ice free, the river at the boundary of the national park does fill with ice offering interesting photo opportunities.  Do be cautious and stay away from the river as ice shifts with the river flow and tidal changes. As always, be cautious when on the beach of incoming tides and avoid going on raised sand areas. The park provides updated tide tables all year round.

If you want to stay overnight you have several options.  While many of the facilities in Alma close for the winter, one that does stay open year round is the Captain's Inn Bed and Breakfast located right in the centre of town.  From this location just a few steps take you to the wharf or the park entrance. Another option is the cottage associated with Cliffside Suites.  Also the chalet cottages at Vista Ridge are open year round. Both of these are a short walk to downtown Alma, and have a nice view of the harbour and beach, especially in the winter.

It is always good to check the forecast over the period that you are considering a visit to the Fundy National Park, and be alert to any warnings.  Check out the ski trail conditions as updated by the club as you plan your trip.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A New Brunswick Travel Blog

I recently stumbled upon James Mann's New Brunswick Travel blog that I highly recommend as a worthwhile read.  Like most blogs it covers a fairly wide range of topics from personal travel advice, travel related stories in the media (e.g. from Rick Mercer's segment on the Bay of Fundy), and advice for various activities from bird watching to fishing.  A recent article covered ice fishing in Shediac Bay.

I particularly liked his posting on ten things to see in New Brunswick (although a bit more detail would have made it more valuable).  His list includes some of the usual well known places (e.g. Hopewell Rocks, Fundy National Park, Cape Enrage lighthouse, Hartland covered bridge) as well as a few less well known (Owen's Art Gallery in Sackville, the Metepenagiag Heritage Park which celebrates the Mi'kmaq culture, and the Beaubears Island Shipbuilding Historic Site).

His posting on covered bridges of New Brunswick is a nice introduction to this feature of our heritage (while there are covered bridges in New England also, New Brunswick lays claim to being the covered bridge capital of the world, and is home to the longest covered bridge in the world in Hartland in the upper Saint John River). He has a link to a travel video on the covered bridges of New Brunswick that provides some interesting background on covered bridges in New Brunswick.

There are a lot of fishing related postings in his blog (not a personal interest of mine) along with a mix of reflections and ideas for things to do.  The author moved to New Brunswick ten years ago, and fell in love with the place.  Follow him in his enjoyment of the region through this blog. I like his mix of personal reflections, links of other articles, and pictures.