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Bridgewater Bulletin Feature
Presented on this web site with permission of Lighthouse Publishing

Andrews Island
The Mahone Islands Conservation Association is seeking suport in their effort to raise the necessary funds to purchase Andrews Island and place it in public ownership.

February 9, 2005
Fundraising push on as deadline to complete island purchase looms
by Robert Hirtle rhirtle@lighthouse.ns.ca

MAHONE BAY -- Over the past decade, an increasing number of Mahone Bay's 365 islands have changed ownership, coming into the possession of individuals who chose to put an end to what had in some cases been generations of public access to their shores.

This became a major concern for many area residents who, after years of being allowed to utilize the islands for recreational purposes, now were finding "no trespassing" signs in locations they once freely frequented.

A number of informal meetings were held by area residents in the late 1990s to consider ways of addressing the problem.

1915 visit to Andrews Island
Andrews Island has been a popular stopping place for as long as anyone can remember. In this photo, Ned Harris, left, of Mahone Bay is joined by future Queens/Lunenburg Member of Parliament and Federal Minister of Fisheries Bill Ernst during a 1915 visit to Andrews Island.
However, it was not until an American developer purchased Strum Island at the head of Mahone Harbour in 2002, stripped off much of its vegetation and started building a residence, then closed it to the public, that things finally came to a head.

In March of 2003 about 200 people turned out at St. James' Anglican Church hall for a meeting called to address the issue, and the Mahone Islands Conservation Association (MICA) officially became a reality.

That initial gathering gained a favourable response from the public, who supported the group's mandate of the protection and conservation of the islands and shoreline of Mahone Bay, as well as the traditional social and recreational opportunities valued by its various communities.

From the beginning the organization set an objective of achieving public ownership of at least some of Mahone Bay's islands as their number 1 priority, a lofty goal considering the skyrocketing price of oceanfront property.

This past fall, however, a mere 18 months after their formation, MICA's executive took a giant step toward that objective when they made their first-ever

Andrews Island is a 20-acre pearl situated in Mahone Harbour east of Strum Island and about one-half kilometre off the shores of the mainland community of Oakland.

Sheep Island cleanup
MICA's first successful clean-up operation, which included the demoltion of ths abandoned cabin, was carried out on Sheep Island in September of 2003. The group had volunteered to assist in stewardship of the island, which was purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in July of that year.
Originally granted in 1776, the island was known as Wamblewreath until the 1820s when the name was changed to Ernst Island, then finally to its present name in 1860. Covered with mixed woodland, including a rare stand of mature beech trees, and sporting two sand beaches, the island has been a popular stopping place for recreational enthusiasts for decades.


"We have thus far solicited our membership and we are just in the beginning stages of going on a corporate pledge campaign. We've made some progress, but we are still short of our goal."
Dale Rafuse
Association vice-chairman
Although the original asking price for the island was reportedly $900,000, MICA chairman Michael Ernst said the owners accepted the association's offer of $620,000 in October, and a deadline of April 30 was set for them to come up with the money.

"We've done our homework, we've had the island appraised [and] we've had a title search completed," he said. "So it's not picking things out of a hat."

Since that time, representatives of the 450-member strong committee have been working diligently to raise the necessary funding, either in cash or pledges, to complete the deal.

"We have thus far solicited our membership and we are just in the beginning stages of going on a corporate pledge campaign," said association vice-chairman Dale Rafuse. "We've made some progress, but we are still short of our goal."

Over the past several months the association has been lobbying various levels of government for financial assistance, receiving a pledge last July from the Municipality of Lunenburg in an amount just over $18,000 before the offer on Andrews Island was made public.

Andrews Island cleanup
Volunteer John Swinamer breaks for lunch during MICA's Andrews Island clean-up day held this past September.
Response from the province with regard to their initiative has also been encouraging.

"The message we had from the provincial government was that if you take the initiative and garner grass roots support, then we will back the project," Mr. Ernst said, adding that some of their representatives have told him they feel there is not presently enough Crown land in coastal areas of the province.

"We're meeting with [Provincial Justice Minister] Michael Baker the beginning of February and saying look, this is what we've done, where we are right now, now it's time for the government to make a substantial financial commitment."

Mr. Ernst said the group is now taking its appeal for funding to the general public, particularly those individuals who stand to benefit from the island natural state, such as recreational boaters, shoreline property owners and tourist businesses.

"To that end we are having a presence at the Halifax Boat Show... on the l7th to the 20th of February," he said. "It's another way of saying to people, you use the area, it's a privilege for you, what are you going to do to honour that privilege."

Andrews Island cleanup
Andrews Island's popularity as a recreation stopping place is unfortunately emphasized by the amount of trash that's left when visitors depart. Here, MICA vice-chairman Dale Rafuse does his part during the Septebmer clean-up.
Once MICA raises the necessary funds and the Andrews Island purchase is completed, ownership of the property will be turned over to an as yet undetermined level of government, with an agreement that future stewardship is to remain with the association.

"The message we had from the provincial government was that if you take the initiative and garner grass roots support, then we will back the project."
Michael Ernst
MICA chairman


Mr. Ernst said it is unlikely the island will be donated to a conservation organization, as they are only interested if the land has ecological significance. He said that does not appear to be the case, although an ecological appraisal has never been carried out on the property.

"So, we're working under different criteria, and recreational significance is nothing to them," he added.

Although the association is well into the throes of fundraising for their first purchase, that has not stopped them from also putting a bid on Backman Island which is situated just off Second Peninsula.

Andrews Island cleanup
One of the younger stewards to lend a hand during the Andrews Island clean-up last September was Alex Rafuse.
While their initial offer was rejected by the owners, that set-back has not deterred the group in their pursuit of the property. "Who knows? With a little bit of extra effort, we might be able to raise enough money to do that [as well],".Mr. Ernst said.

All contributions in support of MICA, including those made toward the purchase of Andrews and other islands, are tax deductible.

More information, including pledge forms, is available on-line at
www. mahoneislands.ns.ca.




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