Pokeshaw Park: Growing number of travellers discover New Brunswick's tiny secret

·3 min read
Pokeshaw Park has seen an explosion of tourists in recent years. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)
Pokeshaw Park has seen an explosion of tourists in recent years. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)

The people who run what may go down as New Brunswick's tiniest provincial park hear one comment more than any other: "I never knew this was here."

It's what New Brunswickers say when they stumble on Pokeshaw Park, about 38 kilometres northeast of Bathurst.

"Very often tourists drive from Bathurst to the Acadian Peninsula, to Caraquet, without stopping along here, without realizing what the beauty of the coastline is," said Kevin Whelton, the park's president.

At around 1.7 acres, the park is easy to miss. But what catches the eye are the imposing rock formations known as sea stacks jutting out of the Bay of Chaleur.

The two towers of limestone serve as a nesting ground for hundreds of seabirds, which are eye level with tourists who can observe them from the mainland cliff sheer about 80 metres away.

Below the cliffs and sea stacks, Pokeshaw Brook cuts a white sand beach in half and feeds into the bay with walking trails on either side.

While the park is owned by the province, it's been managed and maintained by locals from the surrounding communities of Pokeshaw and Black Rock, who pride themselves on taking better care of it then government did.

"It was run by the province in the 1990s, 2000s, around that time, and then they didn't run it anymore," said Mary Anne Riordon-Barry, a retired teacher and now a park volunteer. It was just sitting here.

"So, we leased it. We have a 20-year lease on the park, and we've been working on it every year. So it's a community affair."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Riordon-Barry has been working for years on the history of the park, researching family lineages of those who once farmed and fished the area.

The park now hosts a cabin dubbed the "trading post" in honour of the one that once stood in Pokeshaw.

A small obelisk sits in the middle of the park, with the dozens of mostly Irish family names of those who once called the area home. Placards detailing the Indigenous history, as well as the importance of the early fishing industry, also dot the park.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

In 2019 a boardwalk was installed giving tourists a lookout over the cliffs.

According to Riordon-Barry Pokeshaw Park was the "guinea pig" for a program that would have seen 14 more boardwalk lookouts planned for around the province by the previous Liberal government. When the Progressive Conservatives came to power, they scrapped the plan.

The volunteer group was able to finish the boardwalk, but it's the only one that came to fruition.

It's made all the difference, however. The community's efforts, combined with the addition of the boardwalk, have led to an explosion of tourists, according to Whelton, president of the Black Rock Recreation Council, which manages the park.

"I would say between 15,000 and 20,000 [a year,] whereas before we might have had one or two thousand," said Whelton.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

The park employs five or six summer students a year, taking donations at the entrance for upkeep and maintenance costs.

Erosion is a constant worry, as it is along much of the North Shore. But Whelton said both Pokeshaw and Black Rock take a lot of pride in growing the tiny park into what it has become today.

"I think the big thing is the local interest, the local pride, the local volunteers, and the participation from the community," Whelton said.

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