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LEAVING A LASTING LEGACY

IN DISCUSSION WITH NEW BRUNSWICK NATURALIST AND LONG-TIME NATURE TRUST SUPPORTER AND LAND DONOR, SHEILA WASHBURN.

BY: DANIELLE ANDRUS, COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

Off of Hwy 127, 12 kilometres north-east of St. Andrews by-the-Sea, lies a hidden gem which is equally loved by hikers, adventure seekers, and naturalists alike.

481 acres of protected mixed forest, as well as a large and rare brackish pond, make up the Caughey-Taylor Nature Preserve, donated to the Nature Trust in the 1999, thanks to the generosity and assistance of the late Owen Washburn and his wife Sheila (nee Caughey) Washburn.

Our Executive Director, Renata Woodward, had the pleasure of speaking with Sheila to discuss how she came to donate land and the importance of leaving a legacy.

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RW: Can you tell me about how you first discovered and connected with the Nature Trust?

“Owen and I grew up in New Brunswick at a time when children played outdoors, exploring woods, streams and seashores, becoming fully in tune with nature. In the early 60’s, as newlyweds living on Montreal Island, we felt hemmed in; we could see the effect of a huge city on the degradation of the environment. Graduate school at UNB gave us an opportunity to return New Brunswick, and we renewed our love for and increased our knowledge of the natural environment.

Our move to Guelph, Ontario in 1967 expanded our horizons. Owen was the environmental director of Uniroyal’s research facility and became involved with the local naturalist club, while I used my Girl Guider background to run a Young Naturalist Club. One of the most influential naturalists we met was Philip Gosling. Phil and Owen became life-long friends. They both were on the Board of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists. Owen even served a term as President. When Phil started his Gosling Foundation, he invited Owen to be his Vice-President.

When we returned to New Brunswick, Owen became one of the first four employees in the New Brunswick Government's Environmental Department and I was involved with the Conservation Council of NB's program which opposed budworm spray. I also ran for Fredericton City Council successfully in 1980.

In the 1980’s there was a growing concerned that unique ecosystems in New Brunswick were under threat. The ground work for the land preservation movement was laid by several publications including one by Hal Hinds on the rare plants of the province and another by Mary Young and other authors listing critical natural areas. Both of them were part of a group that, in 1987, invited Owen to be the first president of, which was the Nature Trust of New Brunswick. During this time, Sam Orr’s Pond in Charlotte County became known as an important site worth preserving. A portion of the pond was owned by my father.”

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RW: Do you mind taking me back to time when your family acquired the land and how it was decided that it should be donated to the Nature Trust?

“My father, Judge Earl Caughey, would often invest his money into land and owned lots 17 and 19 of the original land grants in Bocabec. Half of Sam Orr’s Pond was in lot 17 and half in 18. Lot 18 was owned by Eugene Sharp (a senior scholar at the Albert Einstein Institute). A sliver of lot 18 was also owned by the Eagans.

Prior to the formation of the Nature Trust, Tom Moffatt, a local naturalist and the director of Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre at that time, wrote a letter to my father suggesting that Sam Orr’s Pond was a tremendous resource for the naturalists of New Brunswick and that it should be protected.

This was the first time that we had heard of the importance of the pond. Shortly after that, Owen asked my father to deed the land to the Nature Trust. His reply was that he would certainly give his half if Eugene Sharp would do likewise. It took 11 years before Mr. Sharp agreed. My father correctly predicted that he would die before the deal was complete, so as an interim measure, he deeded the land to Owen.

Eventually, the Nature Trust became the major owner of lots 17, 18 and 19, much of it gifted. My brother Michael Caughey was co-donor with me of portions of Lot 19. Following my term as President of the Nature Trust, the acreage of the preserve had been extended further with the help of the Coastal Land Campaign headed up by Jessie Davies on behalf of the Trust. We are greatly indebted to her.”

RW: Did giving your family's property to the Nature Trust, and knowing that it would be protected forever, change your life in any way?

“Oh, it felt very rewarding! While we owned the property, it was protected. But that was not enough. The whole area needed preserving. To achieve that we needed to work with like-minded people and explore all the avenues of preserving and stewarding similar property. Serving on the NTNB board was a period of personal growth for both of us and it is very rewarding now to know how many similar places are also protected due to generous landowners and the team of the Nature Trust.”

RW: What have you learned through this experience?

“The giving of land was a no-brainer for Owen and my family. That this special and unique inheritance could be developed into housing lots or other commercial uses was unthinkable. In a time of global threats to the environment, it is very comforting to know that this piece of the Garden of Eden is being protected.

We cannot go back in time to stop the degradation of the environment, but we can support governments and organizations who are exploring ways to slow the process. Supporting the Nature Trust of New Brunswick is one of the most effective and satisfying ways to continue protecting our planet.”