Carle Smith wildlife sanctuary

The bird sanctuary, located off Manchester Avenue, has been in existence since the 1950s. (Connell Smith/CBC)

A trust fund set up for maintenance of a west Saint John wildlife sanctuary has likely never been used, according to city documents.

The little-known Manchester Bird Sanctuary, off Manchester Avenue, is a patch of woods in the South Bay area.

It was left to the city, along with the trust fund, in 1976 by the estate of Carle Smith, a historian and amateur naturalist. The only condition was that the city protect it from encroachment.

Financial documents recently released by the city show the trust fund is now worth more than $37,000. Those at city hall approached by CBC can't recall any of that money ever being spent.

There is nothing to indicate the 4.5-hectare site is a bird sanctuary — no signs, interpretative panels or walking paths.

Ken Watkins, a neighbour, said the untouched forest is teeming with wildlife.

"There's everything from deer to other critters, raccoons and skunks …continuous grouse and partridge, we've got mating pairs of cardinals …even had one of those turkey vultures here this summer,"  he said.

"We've got a merlin, which is a type of hawk, and it flies around and you know it's there, because the other birds are deep in the bush when it's around … You look out there some days and the sunset comes through those trees and it's just beautiful."

Signage, lookout pitched

Coun. Bill Farren lived beside the woods for five years before learning it was a protected area. He said some of the money from the Carle Smith Fund could be used for educational purposes.

"I think it would be an ideal thing to have a nice little lookout over the bank here, and a little interpretation sign of all the different species of birds and plants that are in this area," said Farren.

City council has the authority to make decisions about the fund, however Farren said the request should come from a community group.

'The best thing we can do is engage the public, get them to understand the value in an area and from there they'll take ownership of its protection on their own.' - Graeme Stewart-Robertson, Atlantic Coastal Action Program

The conservation group, Atlantic Coastal Action Program (ACAP) did a study of the sanctuary 10 years ago, and recommended a "leave as is" philosophy. It urged the city to resist any temptation to start removing fallen trees and branches, or thinning the undergrowth.

The organization also recommended against creating walking trails that might tip it more toward a park.

It does recommend some signage telling people to respect the area, as well as information about the wildlife there.

Engage the public, suggests ACAP

Graeme Stewart-Robertson, a member of ACAP, said adding a lookout would also encourage protection.

"Before you know it, you start to get people to take ownership in an area. That's the best protection we have for environmentally sensitive areas in general, is to get people to understand them [and], in some cases, get out to them and appreciate them," he said.

"Then you've created not just one or two paid stewards through a land trust or conservation agency, you've created hundreds or thousands of part-time land stewards who will take notice if there's dumping, or if someone is cutting wood out of a protected forest.

"So that's the best thing we can do, is engage the public, get them to understand the value in an area and from there they'll take ownership of its protection on their own."

Carle Smith, a published author, wrote the book, The Mosaic Province of New Brunswick in 1965. He used a wheelchair after becoming disabled in an accidental shooting, and lived much of his life with his mother on Manchester Avenue.

Neighbours remember Smith loved to sit on his porch and look out at the birds and wildlife on the plot of land that is now the sanctuary. He created the protected area in 1951, 25 years before his death. When he died, the plot of land was turned over to the city, along with the trust fund.

For more than 60 years, wildlife has found shelter from hunters and from developers on the plot of mature forest.