Dr. Steven Cook speaks to the crowd gathered at the Grace Jollymore Joyce Arts Centre after the 900 acres he and his brothers donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada became a protected area. Raissa Tetanish photo

More than 900 acres of forest in the Cobequid Hills is now under conservation for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Steven Cook, and his two brothers – Dr. Laurie Cook and Dr. David Cook – donated the property to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), and funds were raised to cover the conservation costs. The 904-acre property belonged to the men’s father, the late Dr. George Cook. Steven Cook was in Tatamagouche earlier this month for the announcement regarding the completion of the conservation project.

He told those gathered his father saw an ad in 1974 where a man was selling 600 acres on Warwick Mountain.

“My dad couldn’t resist such an attractive area of forest,” said Cook, who said his father grew up on a subsistence farm in Urbania and had a love for nature.

“Today as you walk through the fields and forests, it’s not hard to find signs of our ancestors’ homesteading efforts with the rivers, rocks, and remnants of rocky foundations. My brothers and I came to share my dad’s interests in the woods and we enjoyed the recreational aspects of the woods for a few years before becoming aware of the professional management that was available.”

It was around 1979 when George realized the potential of the sugar maple trees on the land, which lead to the creation of Maple Ridge Farm with 25,000 tapped trees.

Through land acquisitions and swaps of land with the Crown, the property grew to its current size.

“In spite of our interest in the woods, however, my brothers and I found it difficult to devote the time to the maple operation. In addition to maple production, my dad found himself delivering products and stocking shelves to vendors around the province and he found it just too much to do on his own. In 2006, the maple sugar operation was knocked down.”

It was then the family took a new approach on the property – a woodlot management plan was prepared and silviculture program began.

Cook and his brothers took over the management phase, finding it “highly educational and enjoyable.” Their father would sit back and offer sage advice from time-to-time.

Dr. George Cook died in April 2016.

“We lost a lifelong inspiration and mentor,” Cook said.

With his two brothers living in B.C. and Cook in Nova Scotia, they knew it would be difficult to create a succession plan for the property that would be true to their father’s wishes. So, they made the decision to donate the land.

Craig Smith, NCC’s program director in Nova Scotia, is excited for the donation, which will eventually be known as the Dr. George Cook Nature Reserve.

“It’s always a big day when we can announce the conclusion of a new project, but this one is particularly special in my opinion because I think it’s especially relevant to your community,” said Smith. “Given some of the other special characteristics – the size, and the quality – we feel particularly proud, as should the Cook family.”

He said the project is the largest the NCC has partnered on in the last five years, and it’s made up of some of the “highest quality Acadian forest I’ve had the privilege of viewing and documenting in the region.”

Along with the sugar maple trees, Smith said the forest had beech birch typical of the region, as well as pine, ash, and hemlock. The lifespans, he said, are approaching or more than 100 years old with a high degree of structural integrity.