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ECO-TOURISM: Running off the grid in Cape Breton

Partners Grant Haverstock and Jessica KleinHerenbrink opened Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins in early September after more than 18 months of planning, clearing land and building five cabins and a main lodge that run using energy from solar panels and propane. The glamping business is focused on attracting people looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors whether it be hiking, hunting, fishing or snowmobiling.
Partners Grant Haverstock and Jessica KleinHerenbrink opened Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins in early September after more than 18 months of planning, clearing land and building five cabins and a main lodge that run using energy from solar panels and propane. The glamping business is focused on attracting people looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors whether it be hiking, hunting, fishing or snowmobiling. - contributed
WHYCOCOMAGH, N.S. —

It’s part practicality mixed with a measure of self-sufficiency.

Off-grid camping and glamping is becoming more popular as people look to get back to basics as much as they can during a holiday or weekend getaway.

The dream of opening cabins and a pub running on solar power and propane to heat water has been more than 18 months in the making for Jessica KleinHerenbrink and her partner Grant Haverstock.

The couple bought the 200-acre mountain property about 270 metres above the community of Whycocomagh in April 2018.

Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins has five eco-friendly cabins and a main lodge, which houses Nova Scotia’s first off-grid pub that’s open to guests. 

Glamping Off the Beaton Path offers five glamping tents made from black spruce and two layers of canvass to cover the walls and roof. Located in Broad Cove Marsh, Inverness County, the glamping accommodation opened in July 2018. It operates off-grid by using solar power and propane to heat water.
Glamping Off the Beaton Path offers five glamping tents made from black spruce and two layers of canvass to cover the walls and roof. Located in Broad Cove Marsh, Inverness County, the glamping accommodation opened in July 2018. It operates off-grid by using solar power and propane to heat water.

The property is off the beaten track and does not run to the power grid. Paying to install power poles would have been cost-prohibitive in starting up a new business, KleinHerenbrink said.

With either having little knowledge of how to connect solar energy to the lodge, installing the 32-panel system presented a learning curve, she said.

“We worked with an electrician who did all the wiring for the main building. He was kind of learning too. The professionals set us up with all the equipment that we needed and guided us that way,” she said.

“We did more (electrical work) by ourselves with our electrician. Grant is pretty savvy when it comes to electronics, so he was right in there learning about the whole setup.”

The lights, well pump and refrigeration system for its four craft beers on tap operate on solar power, while propane is used for hot water and cooking.

Each cabin, built in Nova Scotia from 60 per cent recycled steel, has its own solar light system separate from the renewable energy grid used to power the main lodge and pub. And the cabins are heated using small propane furnaces.

“They are direct vent and do not require any electricity. It was the easiest way for us to go to heat the cabins,” KleinHerenbrink said.

The wilderness cabins, which officially opened on the Labour Day weekend and will be open year-round, aim to attract vacationing snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle owners who travel on the network of woodland trails in Inverness and Victoria counties.

A 50-kilometre trip northeast of Whycocomagh on the coast, with a sunset view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is another off-grid accommodation. It’s called Glamping Off the Beaton Path and it's located in Broad Cove Marsh.

A 32-solar panel system was installed at Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins in Whycocomagh. The five eco-friendly cabins and a main lodge, which houses Nova Scotia’s first off-grid pub that’s open to guests, offer easy access to a network of snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle trails in Inverness County.
A 32-solar panel system was installed at Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins in Whycocomagh. The five eco-friendly cabins and a main lodge, which houses Nova Scotia’s first off-grid pub that’s open to guests, offer easy access to a network of snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle trails in Inverness County.

The wooden-framed canvas tents furnished with handcrafted tables and chairs are powered using solar panels with 12-volt batteries. It’s a basic system that works well for his five glamping tents.

“It was all 100 per cent new for me,” said owner Doug Beaton of his “rustic” glamping business.

“We bought an inverter that would change the battery power (current) from DC to AC and we had outlets put in from that.”

He consulted two local electricians in setting up the system since hooking up to the Nova Scotia Power grid would come at a “significant cost,” he said.

The glamping business is built on farmland that’s been in Beaton’s family for generations. He operates both a buffalo farm and a gas-powered bandsaw mill nearby.

The lumber, including the main tent supports made from black spruce, was harvested from Beaton’s land. The two-layer, weather-durable canvas was custom-made to act as the walls and roof of the tents.

“We put a lot of wood in the structure to give it a lot of strength,” he said of the tents, which first opened to the public in July 2018.

“The wind can get high at times. Hurricane Dorian, when it came through, there was no damage. That was probably some of the strongest winds that we’ve had at that location since I put those (glamping tents) up.”

A communal washroom and showers are heated using propane.

Beaton plans to close Glamping Off The Beaton Path after the Thanksgiving Day long weekend. He said traffic in the fall tourism season tends to slow down in late October.

The wooden structures will remain standing but the two layers of canvas will be removed to prevent a further beating from mother nature.

“It was a good fit for the property,” Beaton said of the venture that has experienced a busy season and already has bookings confirmed for next spring. 

The Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins opened to the public on the Labour Day weekend. The off-grid cabins are run using solar-powered panels and propane on top of Whycocomagh Mountain.
The Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins opened to the public on the Labour Day weekend. The off-grid cabins are run using solar-powered panels and propane on top of Whycocomagh Mountain.

For KleinHerenbrink, who runs her own website design business called Beach Pea Design, and Haverstock, a blacksmith and owner of FireHouse Ironworks Ltd. since 2014, the idea is to keep the cabins busy 12 months of the year.

The snowmobile trails run through their backyard in the Inverness County countryside. And the area around Whycocomagh and the River Denys basin sees hikers, hunters and fishermen throughout the year.

“We’ve set it up so people can bring their trucks and trailers up and we’ve got a big parking area where they can unload their sleds from their trailers,” KleinHerenbrink said.

“We’re looking to make it a little destination whether it’s sledding, hunting or ATVing, hiking. There are two protected wilderness areas that are up on the plateau that probably haven’t really been explored at all. There’s all kinds of opportunities for different outdoor activities up there with the trails being so close.”

Twitter: @cbpost_chris

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