When you visit Nackawic’s waterfront, two things are hard to miss. On one side of the river, the pulp mill, perched high on a hill. On the other side, that massive axe.
They’re both symbols of the strong ties Nackawic has historically had with the forestry industry. But lately, the small but mighty town of 1000 has been branching out.
“We have industry in the town that’s super important, but one thing we’ve never tapped into is tourism dollars,” says Greg MacFarlane, deputy mayor of Nackawic and chair of the Destination Nackawic Economic Development Corporation.
Earlier this month, the town unveiled its brand new marina, complete with boat slips, extensive docks, a clubhouse and gift shop, and kayak and water bike rentals. It’s part of an ambitious, $2 million dollar plan to reinvent the waterfront in Nackawic — and diversify the economy in a community that for so long was defined by its pulp mill.
“As a kid growing up in the valley here, we always talked about having a marina here. … So I think for me, it’s always been a dream,” MacFarlane says.
“Not in the direction it seems to be”
Nackawic has long been a picturesque point along the Wolastoq, or the St. John River system. In the Wolastoqey language, Nackawic roughly translates to mean “not in the direction it seems to be,” owing to the unique bend in the river.
But it wasn’t until recently that the town decided to take advantage of their tranquil riverfront perch, and develop the waterfront.
Part of those discussions came about after the town realized it needed a larger tax base. In 2013, pulp and paper mills across New Brunswick saw major property tax reductions after a slump in the industry. Because of that, Nackawic lost $450,000 in tax revenue.
MacFarlane said that got him and others thinking outside of the box.
“That made our community have to think about how we can change ourselves and how we can not just ask government, but work together to diversify our economy, and not just have our hand out, but try to attract private sector development as a community,” he said.
MacFarlane and other councillors and local business owners formed a non-profit economic development corporation, focused on investing in and promoting Nackawic’s riverfront.
“I just believe that this is the only way forward for us. You can drive around and you can see lots of towns that are struggling and … we’re just going to work through it a different way and be innovative and recruit business people and private sector dollars, and just keep telling our story.”
The waterfront project now has joint funding from the federal government, the province and “the town’s savings account,” MacFarlane says.
Eventually, the waterfront plans will include a beach for swimming, a splashpad and playground, and an amphitheatre for festivals and concerts. But MacFarlane says he’s already seeing the economic spinoff in the community.
“As you can see [Big Axe Brewery] has a nice new dock system there, so you can pull in and tie up and get a growler of beer,” MacFarlane said, motioning to the waterfront brewery.
Less than three weeks since opening, the marina is already busy with boats. The town unveiled 34 permanent boat slips this month, and 28 of them are already rented out.
No easy sell
MacFarlane says he’s had overwhelmingly positive feedback on the waterfront plans. But like any place, sometimes people can be wary of change.
“That’s one of the things that’s been, I think, the hardest. To convince people on council that we have to think outside the box and diversify, and that we’re going to have to spend some money on that to change the branding, and to diversify we’re going to have to reinvest in ourselves.”
He says it’s also about reminding locals about the beautiful asset right in their backyards.
“I think for a lot of people who’ve lived here most of their life, they just take it maybe for granted. I think we’ve opened a lot of people’s eyes, and reminded them just how lucky we are to live in this beautiful part of New Brunswick.”
His hope is that, the more amenities and attractions Nackawic has, the more willing tourists might be to pull off the highway.
“We have tens of thousands of cars driving right by our doorstep every day. So if we can get more traffic in off the highway, and make a stop at the brewery, make a stop at the waterfront, make a stop at the marina to rent a water bike, you know, they might come back and buy a house here, or they might want to start a business here, right?”