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Away to Birchdale

In this blog post, Anne describes her experience at Birchdale, a remote and beautiful camp in southern Nova Scotia.

Back in October, I had the pleasure of spending 24 hours at Birchdale (previously Nova Nada), a remote and beautiful camp in southern Nova Scotia. The experience made me think of community and how this is essential in sustainable practices. I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience community in outdoor places, and if it seems like something you would enjoy, you can contact Tracey and/or Sarah for more information! I have provided their contact information at the bottom of the article.

Birchdale has a long and interesting history going back more than a century. It has had many ownership changes, from originating as a hunting and fishing lodge deep in the Nova Scotian forest, to monks modernizing the property, to being owned for camping activities by Helen Matthews. Just this year, the ownership changed again. Tracey Erin Smith and Sarah Garton Stanley bought the property which came with the lodge and many beautiful cabins.

Despite this interesting history, I find the most exciting part about Birchdale the future opportunities. These were easily imaginable with my visit there, where anyone could understand how a place like this could build community when shared with others.

Upon arrival, the magic of Birchdale becomes apparent. We arrived after dark, but were able to peek around the cabins. The feeling of arriving somewhere new in darkness is so exciting, because you will get to have a whole new perspective of the place once you see it in the daylight. In the morning, we had a sunrise paddle and enjoyed the calm lake. Breakfast was in the main lodge, and we were lucky to share it with Tracey and Sarah. We spent the morning working in the forest to clear trees that had been knocked down by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. After lunch, we were able to paddle to a small beach on the other side of the lake and spend the afternoon in the sun. Finally, Tracey and Sarah gave everyone a tour of the property and the cabins.

Birchdale is off grid, and there are at least 15 different cabins, all somewhat unique. The patchwork history has included some new developments, and the property shows this with the different architectural styles. Each cabin had its own charm. Most had fireplaces and/or a stove, many beds, a desk and chairs. It was easy to see how you could come here to write a book, or just to explore the outdoors all day.

While visiting, I was overwhelmed and inspired by the space available which could be put to educational use through outdoor exploration and art. Tracey and Sarah have just begun planning numerous activities for their communities and the public, as they work to make the experience available to many people. Some of the activities they discussed while I was there were a sculpture garden in the forest, hosting educational workshops, theater and writing getaways, among others.

Community seemed alive and well at Birchdale. You could look at old photographs, where many past visitors and experiences were pictured. The property has lasted many changes in the world, and stood the test of time. Something so simple has provided many people with relaxation and shared experiences, and under Tracey and Sarah's ownership, this will continue. Community has no doubt been instrumental to this success, as the visit made evident. We heard of work days, where community members would all come to Birchdale and help collect and chop wood, or repair cabins. All summer, Tracey and Sarah were able to host many friends and community members for workshops or other events. The turn-over of the property, from Helen Matthews to Tracey and Sarah, occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic but they could be taught the important skills remotely, as communities had moved largely online. Tracey and Sarah are learning from their community, while they teach their community with the help of Birchdale.

The experience I was lucky of receiving at Birchdale reminded me of the importance to care for yourself. Nature can restore and rejuvenate you, if you are able to access it in a safe and enjoyable way. I found that although the visit was only 24 hours, I was able to decompress from the upbeat pace of being a student in a city. I hope others get this opportunity.

Birchdale has a Facebook group, where you can see their postings about activities and events. Tracey and Sarah can be reached for information about Birchdale, although it is in an area with no service so be patient if you reach out.

All photos taken and shared were my own. Thank you for reading!

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