Where Trails and Ideas Meet

by Community Forests International on October 20, 2014

Last Tuesday, members of CFP and CFI including Executive Directors Mbarouk Mussa Omar and Jeff Schnurr were warmly welcomed by community members of Perth-Andover in western New Brunswick to learn about some of the challenges faced in this region and share experiences from the Community Forests perspective. Community Forests joined local residents on a "Walk in the Park", a series of walks organized by community leader Francine St-Amand in response to floods that devastated the village in 2012.

The walk took participants through neighbourhoods where most of the homes have been torn down, and only empty yards remain.

The walk took participants through neighbourhoods where most of the homes have been torn down, and only empty yards remain.

Perth-Andover is a village located on the St. John River, at the crux of where three rivers meet. In March 2012, ice jams downstream of the community caused the river to swell and spill its banks, severely damaging homes and businesses on the flood plains along the river. The aftermath of the flood has devastated the community as businesses suffered, buildings were torn down, and residents had to re-locate. Over 200 jobs were lost as restaurants and a call-centre closed, and the local hospital was forced to cut its obstetrics unit due to irreparable damage to sections of the hospital building. The effects of the flood continue to have a profound and lasting impact on the community as residents grieve, try to come to terms with what was lost, and look towards the future of Perth-Andover.

Since July of this year, residents have been walking through areas affected by the floods, and sharing their ideas for re-building the community. The principle plan being discussed in town council is to build a golf course on the flood plains. However, a number of residents feel that this plan is short sighted, given that golf courses already exist nearby, and removing trees along the river will make the area more vulnerable to future floods. Francine St-Amand, a local employment assistance counselor, organized the "Walk in the Park" events as a way to encourage community participation in providing alternative plans for the area. Over 20 walks have been held so far, and residents have had the opportunity to creatively explore the area and share their own ideas for a more inclusive and functional community space.

While the future development plans of Perth-Andover are uncertain, what remains certain is that people care deeply about the village and want to see the community thrive again. As Jeff noted at the end of CFI's time there, "The walks seem to be serving as a therapy, a point of conversation. This isn't just the future, they're already using the space and creating something here."

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