A popular hiking trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park has been forced to close its main access road after repeated washouts.
Mary Ann Falls Road leads to the much-visited falls north of Ingonish, N.S., but a 2021 storm caused massive damage to the road and subsequent storms create more washouts.
On Thursday, Parks Canada announced the road is now permanently closed to vehicles, but will be converted to a hiking and mountain biking trail set to open in the 2024 visitor season.
"The decision to close the road wasn't taken lightly and in fact closing the road we're seeing it as an opportunity as well to increase our active transportation trail," said Robie Gourd, asset manager with Cape Breton Highlands National Park. "This is something we're looking to convert that road from a two-way traffic automobile access, but turning it into a mountain bike trail."
Gourd said when the former road reopens to the public as a trail in 2024, it will be one kilometre longer and include better drainage. It's currently 6.5 kilometres, one way.
Mary Ann Falls in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, N.S. (Parks Canada)
Mary Ann Falls Road was part of the original Cabot Trail route designed in the 1920s and was used as the main route through the highlands until the 1950s. It was decommissioned as a main road once the coastal Cabot Trail was complete.
A stairwell leading to the falls that was also damaged during multiple storms will need to be rebuilt, according to Parks Canada.
An all-terrain vehicle driving up a washed out section of the road to Mary Ann Falls in 2022. (Submitted by Parks Canada)
Parks Canada also announced the nearby Branch Pond Look-off Trail, which has a trailhead on Mary Ann Falls Road, will no longer be maintained by parks officials. It was closed during the 2023 season due to an unsafe bridge near the beginning of the trail and the bridge is being removed.
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