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Military Assists Non-Profit Projects

By: Ryan King

The Starlight Trail is not the only one that will have work done by military engineers as part of Project NIHILO SAPPER. (© René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.)

CODROY VALLEY – As the weather warms up, residents are always on the lookout for ways to enjoy the scenic Southwest coast. The spectacular Codroy Valley has always been a popular destination with locals and tourists alike, and it is set to further improve its appeal thanks to a military engineering program called exercise NIHILO SAPPER.

The project was first announced on Wednesday, May 26 at the Codroy Valley Area Development Association (CVADA) Annual General Meeting (AGM). The NIHILO SAPPER program is an annual training exercise for military engineers that works with non-profits. The partnership allows engineers to hone their skills through community-oriented projects.

Local non-profit groups, like the CVADA, provide the materials needed, while the military provides the manpower and equipment to get the job done.

Speaking at the AGM, board member Carolyn Aucoin said, “I think it’s a great opportunity for the area. These services are offered free of charge. Some of what has been carried out in the past with these exercises across Canada (are) design, bridge work, heavy equipment, labour. They will take care of the fuel and maintenance, but all the other materials are not provided.”

One of the area projects targeted for NIHILO SAPPER is work on both the Starlight and Coastangs hiking trails. For the Starlight Trail, engineers will work on the first kilometre of the trail to make improvements, including to the board walk and installing culverts. On the Coastangs hiking trail, engineers will carry out maintenance work on the northern section, work on the lookout, bridge work, drainage, and possibly installing a pagoda.

Gerard Gale, newly elected as a board member with the CVADA, is particularly excited by the plans for the Starlight trail. “I know that they plan on expanding the Starlight trail, which I think is a real good thing. That’s one of my favourite trails in the area regardless. So, if they can expand it down around Campbell’s Lake – I believe is what they’re doing with the expansion – I think it’ll make it more of a highlight around this area than it already is. But even right now, I feel like the Starlight trail is one of the highlights of visiting the area. An expansion is both super exciting, and I think that it’ll have a great benefit on the local area in terms of visitation and tourism,” said Gale.

In addition to the trail repairs and upgrades, NIHILO SAPPER engineers will also undertake additional work that looks to benefit local school children. Students attending the Belanger Memorial School can look forward to the construction of a day park on the school grounds, which will come complete with outdoor seating for classes.

This is an obvious advantage for teaching during the pandemic, and it will also get children outside to enjoy the scenic outdoors.

Aucoin, who is also a teacher at Belanger, outlined the day park with clear enthusiasm during her presentation at the AGM.

“I’m working on getting a day park developed for the front yard of our school – to have a day park with an outdoor classroom with terracing around the tree. Like, seating in the hill, and bring in some big rocks to have outdoor rock seating for the students for an outdoor classroom. Also, to have a day park, to have it kind of like (with) buddy benches, trees, shrubbery – all an inviting atmosphere on the whole of the front lawn. And the outdoor classroom, which is a big promotion now in teaching – getting kids outside, connecting with nature.”

Representatives from the CVADA and Belanger Memorial met with Canadian Armed Forces commanding officer, Jason Gale, in the Dec. 2019 to discuss how Exercise NIHILO SAPPER, based out of Stephenville, could benefit the Codroy Valley. The discussed improvement projects were approved, but subsequently postponed due to regulations surrounding the pandemic.

Work is currently scheduled to start on Oct. 2. The military engineers will station in Stephenville with approximately 500 to 600 soldiers, and create a sub-camp in the Codroy Valley for 25 to 75 soldiers. Another meeting will take place sometime in June to revisit schedules and plans.

The CVADA also applied to Exercise NIHILO SAPPER for help to demolish the old woolen mill. Patsy Brownrigg presented the details at the AGM. “The woolen mill, as of now, that has not been useable in many years. There’s a mold situation there that can’t be rectified, due to the way that the building is.”

The mold would cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $70,000 to fix but the building, established in the 1980s, also presents a safety issue and has become an eye sore.

“There’s been some times when the door has blown open, and one thing or another, you know?” offered Brownrigg rhetorically.

Given these factors, the plan is to have the engineers help take down the woolen mill in an environmentally-friendly way.

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