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Washed out: Road to popular Cape Breton waterfall permanently closed to vehicles

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For generations, going for a swim in the water below Mary Ann Falls near Ingonish, N.S., has been a summer tradition for some in Cape Breton.

The Mary Ann Falls at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.

After the significant weather this year, the only way to get to the falls now will be to hike or bike more than six and a half kilometers each way.

"I get why they're doing it,” said Benoit Lalonde, who spends much of his free time exploring Nova Scotia’s waterfalls and has written books on the subject.

In a news release, Parks Canada says 'repeated extreme weather events' have caused 'continuous and irreparable damage' to the Mary Ann Falls Road, leading to the difficult decision to close it permanently to vehicles.

They added the road became impassable after a series of washouts in 2021, including a major fall storm that left gaping holes in the nearby Cabot Trail.

Lalonde feels this is an unfortunate casualty of climate change.

"One-hundred per cent. If there's any doubt in anybody's mind out there that there's no change in the climate these days, you just have to look at the weather events we've had,” Lalonde said.

Lyle Donovan is emergency management coordinator for Victoria County. Born and raised in the area, he is among many who has visited the falls plenty over the years.

"Memories have been made there, swimming as kids,” Donovan said.

In his role with EMO, Donovan and his co-workers have dealt with their fair share of road washouts in recent years.

"We've had to restructure roads, and for a road that's five or six kilometers long from the main Cabot Trail in through to Mary Ann Falls, the gravel road, it would take a lot to help reconstruct that,” Donovan said.

Parks Canada says the road to the falls will be converted into a sustainable hiking and biking trail which is expected to open during the 2024 visitor season.

They add that a stairway to the falls, which was also damaged during multiple storms, will be rebuilt as well.

Lalonde says while there may have been little other choice, it's unfortunate for those whose movement is limited.

"It does have a special place in a lot of peoples' hearts, and I get it that it will be disheartening for those who aren't mobile anymore,” he said.

Parks Canada said when the road to the falls reopens, it will be a kilometer longer and will include better drainage.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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