Nova Scotia

Repairs are progressing in Highlands National Park after flooding last fall

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is welcoming visitors for its summer season but some areas are still undergoing repairs after a storm in November that brought more than 270mm of rain. One trailhead is nearly inaccessible.

Trails, campgrounds, beaches and roads to trailheads were all damaged in last November's rainstorm

The road to Mary Ann Falls as seen on June 2, 2022. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Six months after a storm doused Cape Breton Highlands National Park with more than 270 millimetres of rain, park staff are still mopping up.

After the flooding in November, Parks Canada's main priority was repairing the washed-out roads that wind through the park.

Now that those have been restored and snow is finally melting in the highlands, repairs are well underway on trails, campgrounds, beaches and roads to trailheads — all of which were also damaged during the storm. 

"The snow came early and we didn't really get a chance to get to those repairs until this spring, right now," said Robie Gourd, asset manager with Highlands National Park.

"There is an extraordinary amount of work that's going in to … open this season. And I guess our crews have been working around the clock."

Mary Ann Falls is the only area that remains inaccessible, as the road is closed due to washouts.

An all-terrain vehicle navigates a washed out section of the road to Mary Ann Falls. (Submitted by Parks Canada)

The six-kilometre road was once part of the original Cabot Trail, connecting Ingonish to Neil's Harbour. Visitors can usually drive to a parking lot a short distance from Mary Ann Falls and then explore the multi-tiered waterfalls. 

Hikers can still get to the falls on foot and Gourd said staff are hoping to have the road open to traffic before the end of 2022.

"It's probably pushing 100 years old … obviously not built to the modern traffic standards of today," said Gourd.

"Even in the most gentle of seasons, there's always some repair work to go into keeping that up as a trail … but with the unprecedented rains we saw last season it was just a huge effort to get this facility up and running for the season."

The bottom of Mary Ann Falls in a photo from October 2021. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Gourd said the focus since the flood has been on repairing campgrounds and day-use areas first, with Mary Ann being put on the backburner temporarily because of how extensive the damage is. Even after it's repaired, Gourd said Parks Canada will have to look at the possibility of realigning the century-old road. 

Washouts also happened near popular areas like Franey Mountain, Broad Cove Mountain, and Middle Head Trail, but all three are still accessible. 

Franey is known for its steep incline, which requires hikers to walk several sets of stairs to the 450m peak. Gourd said it's likely some infrastructure on the trail will have to be replaced. The back road, which many hikers use to descend from the mountain, also has some washout damage.

One of the staircases leading to the top of Franey Mountain prior to the November flood. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Like the road to Mary Ann Falls, Franey trail predates the existence of the national park. Gourd said, it too, may need more repairs in the future.

"We'll likely see some new alignments and different trail alignments through the woods so that it doesn't suffer the same fate in future storms," he said. "So yeah, we're really working hard with our design crews to try to find ways to make these trails more sustainable in the long term."

As more visitors head to the park, Gourd said it's important they use caution. Signs will be posted at trail heads to let visitors know if there are still portions that are damaged. 

Other than the roads, Parks Canada has completed some other major repairs to the park. 

Broad Cove Campground underwent major renovations just weeks before the flooding. The repairs saw the replacement of a crumbling metal retaining wall from the 1970s. 

Damage to Broad Cove just after the storm. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

The wall was replaced with a more gentle slope covered with deep rooting plants for stability. That was heavily damaged during the storm but has been fully restored.

Broad Cove has since been repaired and a beach that hasn't been seen since the 1970s is now accessible. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

With the old wall gone, a beach that hasn't been seen since before its creation has returned. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to brittany.wentzell@cbc.ca

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