By Jennifer West
Did you know that the Cornwallis River was a popular place for fishing, swimming (including Red Cross swimming lessons), canoeing, and collecting drinking water? The river was also abundant with Atlantic salmon, speckled trout and more. Sadly many of these activities and species are now missing from the Cornwallis River, but there is much work being done to bring them back.
The Jijuktu’kwejk Watershed Alliance was established in 2016 with the goal of restoring the river to be swimmable and fishable again. The Mi’kmaq people have referred to the Cornwallis and Annapolis Rivers collectively as the Jijuktu’kwejk, and this name has since become a symbol of the natural state of the river, which this group strives to achieve again. The organization includes strong connections with local naturalist, environment, research, community, First Nations, and government groups, making it an alliance of groups and people working toward this important goal.
Today, the Alliance has a guiding team of ten people from various backgrounds who plan scientific programs and events such as public talks, canoe and kayak events, learn to paddle workshops, and river and trail clean-ups. Each summer, groups of students learn about the health of the river and of opportunities for the public to spend more time learning about and loving the river in our backyard.
The Alliance has been hiring summer students for the past 4 years to collect water samples, document invasive species, map areas of concern, and identify sensitive habitat. Students have been mentored by members of the Watershed Alliance with experience in biology, ecology, mapping and GIS, wetlands, and geology. Keeler Colton is a biology student at Acadia University who started with the group in July. He has been mapping locations of turtles and other sensitive species, collecting water samples for analysis of bacteria and basic chemistry, and documenting the state of the river. Jeff Smith, a remote sensing student at NSCC’s Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS), is working on an interactive website which will allow visitors to view maps and visualize scientific data about the watershed. Much of Keeler’s work will be incorporated into Jeff’s project, providing an easy way for residents of the Valley to learn about the rich history and present conditions of the Jijuktu’kwejk River.
The Alliance is supported by federal and municipal grants, grants from foundations, and the generous support of local residents. Larger grants support the hiring of summer students, while smaller grants and donations help support water sample costs and necessary equipment. The organization has no full-time staff and no office, but continues their important work from their homes and along the shores of the river.
Photo: Ecology summer student Keeler Colton (in the river, and with a friend).