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Sackville family makes significant land donation to Atlantic Wildlife Institute

Barry Rothfuss and Pam Novak, who operate the Atlantic Wildlife Institute in Cookville, say a recent donation will more than double their area of protected habitat.
Barry Rothfuss and Pam Novak, who operate the Atlantic Wildlife Institute in Cookville, say a recent donation will more than double their area of protected habitat. - File image

156-acre property will be protected as wildlife habitat

COOKVILLE, N.B. – It has sat vacant for more than seven decades but a 156-acre piece of property in Centre Village will soon be put to good use again.

The large parcel of land was recently gifted to the Atlantic Wildlife Institute (AWI), a donation that came from lifelong Sackville residents Wallie and Norma Sears and their daughters Paula and Janet.

Wallie said he is confident the property, which has been in his family since the late 1800s, will now be in good hands under the caring ownership of AWI founders Barry Rothfuss and Pam Novak.

“We were more than happy to do this, to know this property will be going to an organization of this kind,” said Wallie.

The land, located about three kilometres away from AWI’s existing facility in Cookville, is a mixture of soft and hardwood forest and will become part of the institute’s inventory of protected spaces for wildlife species.

Rothfuss, executive director of AWI, said the property will more than double their area of protected natural habitat, which already consists of 120 acres of mixed forest, open fields and wetlands overlooking the upper reaches of the Tantramar River.

The land will be referred to as The Sears Sanctuary, and Rothfuss said “we are truly humbled that the Sears family is making this gift and deeply appreciative of their generosity. Wallie Sears was one of the first journalists to cover

Pictured is a section of the land donated to the Atlantic Wildlife Institute by the Sears family. PHOTO SUBMITTED
Pictured is a section of the land donated to the Atlantic Wildlife Institute by the Sears family. PHOTO SUBMITTED

the creation of the Atlantic Wildlife Institute back in 1995, and for him and his family to think of AWI now is wonderful.”

Sears, a longtime journalist who has been covering local news and sports for the Sackville Tribune-Post for more than 60 years, is “an invaluable part of the Sackville community,” said Rothfuss, and he hopes to be able to use the land in a way that would make the Sears’ proud and to continue on the long family history of the property.

The property was first developed by Wallie’s grandparents in 1875, when they were granted a 100-acre swath of land to start a farm. Wallie said his grandfather cleared the land and they built a home there, raising a family of 13 children.

Wallie’s father was the youngest of the 13 and took over the farm in 1925. He purchased the adjoining 56-acre property soon after to expand his operations. In 1942, however, the Sears family relocated from the Centre Village farm to downtown Sackville, where Wallie could finish his high school education.

The property was eventually deeded to Wallie and then passed on to his daughter Paula about eight years ago. But Wallie said neither of his daughters had any plans for the property and it has continued to sit idle, until a chance meeting last summer between Paula, Barry and Pam.

During an open house at the AWI facility in August, Paula was impressed and impacted by the work Barry and Pam were doing and began to imagine the possibilities in donating the land to them.

“She saw an opportunity to make good use of it,” said Wallie.

Wallie said his family is proud to have been able to hand over this land to Barry and Pam, who he has come to know and admire for the work they do at the facility as well as their volunteer efforts in the community.

He said they were excited over the potential opportunities for the property and when the deal was made, Barry and Pam were “just like two kids on Christmas morning.”

Initial plans for the Sears Sanctuary are to explore the property and to establish a bio-inventory of the flora and fauna currently existing there. Future plans may include development of a trail network in support of an expansion of AWI’s educational outreach programming and project research.

But most important, the land will be a sanctuary for native wildlife species and will be protected as such, said Rothfuss.

About the Atlantic Wildlife Institute

The Atlantic Wildlife Institute is a private, registered charitable organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife that has been displaced as a result of human encroachment on natural ecosystems. Their work allows AWI to contribute to scientific knowledge on the causes and effects of environmental stress, and to public awareness of the essential link between ecosystem health and human well-being.

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