Deep sand and a deteriorating trestle have been troublesome obstacles for residents trying to access their properties near J. T. Cheeseman beach. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Incorporated Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, known for its beautiful, sandy beach, rolling hills, and as a nesting spot for the endangered piping plover, is always a popular destination for locals and tourists. Unfortunately, when Hurricane Fiona hit the Southwest coast in September 2022, the beach was irrevocably changed. 

Because of the extent of the storm damage, the beach is now nearly unrecognizable, and the numerous properties regularly accessed via the beach became inaccessible due to the significant sand displacement. The sand from the beach has been pushed back so far that the parking lot has now been transformed into part of the beachhead.

Gary White is a former resident of the Cheeseman Park area who sold his property, but is aware of the access problem.

“I had property up there and sold it to David Gibb. David, his wife, and his mom – I think now she’s ninety-five or ninety-seven – and they live there at least nine months of the year. They’d love to have access to it because now, of course, they can’t go up there because they’re scared of if they get in and something happens to their mom, what if they can’t get out? The road is terrible right now.”

White did hear of plans to fix the beach.

“They’re talking about fixing it. Whether or when, I should say, it’s going to materialize, I really can’t answer, but it definitely needs some looking into,” said White.

When work needed to be done previously, some of the nearby residents took it upon themselves to undertake the repairs.

“David Gibb is the man. David Gibb, I work with him off and on. I help him do work for him, and he did over one trestle himself, complete trestle. It wasn’t fit for anything,” said White, “and he did it all himself. Then they (the province) said they would do the other one. My goodness, that has got to be four years ago, and they still haven’t done the other one. The other one is hardly fit to walk across, let alone drive across.”

“After you cross the beach, you get on the railway bed and you’ve got two trestles. The first one David did over,” said White. “The other one was  – we asked permission, of course. He gave us permission to do it and they were going to do the other one, but like I said, I’m guessing that’s a good four years ago.”

White said that the province never delivered a guarantee that the work would be done.

“We were fighting to get the bridge done, and that’s what he (David) said,. ‘I asked for permission to do that bridge.’ David did, and yeah, not a problem. Now I said, ‘What about the other one?’ and they said ‘Well, we’ll get to the other one,’ or like, in that area, leading me to believe that they’ll do the other one,” said White.

“But it never, ever happened. I even said one time to them, ‘if you get the material, we’ll put it together because she was pretty bad, but they couldn’t do it, of course.”

White hopes that certain areas are included if the province does undertake repairs to Cheeseman’s beach.

“If there’s ever either a contract or tender called, because they’re talking about doing the pond, down pass that and keep up the railway bed. They’ve got to do something with that trestle because no trucks can cross over that.”

Even though the trestle’s poor condition could make it difficult for residents to reach their properties, White believes the state of the beach is of more significant concern and something that the province should have had fixed by now.

 “If you go over it, the minute you spin, of course you dig down, you get bogged down. People are pulling one another out. Of course that was Fiona. There’s no fault by the government there,” said White, “but what I see with it all is it seems to take them so long to do anything out here. That’s my beef with them. When something happens out here, it should have been done in 60 days, 90 days, but it takes forever for them to get it done.”

White has encountered people who were stuck in the sand while attempting to get to their properties.

“David himself was bogged down. Now, I realize people might tell you that the railway bed is not meant for cars, but people are driving to their cabins. They have permission from the government to go down there, access back and forth.”

There is another concern.

“There’s a cemetery down there. My mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, aunts and uncles are buried there, like many others are buried there. I don’t know if this is it’s legal name, but it’s called the Barachois Graveyard. I don’t see that name on it, but that’s what we all call it. One time that was called The Osmonds because we’re all Osmonds there, and when the train would go through, of course, the train would drop off supplies to them and different things, they would look after them. But over the years, of course, it weaned out and now there’s no one. The only one living there now I can say, really, is David Gibb. Other than a few months of the year he’s there, if it was suitable, he’d be there twelve months a year.”

Currently, for someone to access the graveyard, they would have to walk through the sand, over the trail, and over a failing trestle.

“If you check, there’s been money allotted for the rails and trails for the past at least three or four years now. It’s a fact that rails and trails start in Port aux Basques. That’s where it starts, so why did they not start at the beginning and work out for the work on the trails? Why didn’t they start at the beginning and work out instead of starting in Robinson’s? Starting in, I believe last year they started in, did some work up around the Codroy area. Well, I’m saying Codroy, but the Valley area, the McDougalls area, but what I’m saying, I don’t understand why they don’t start down here. Look at that trestle.”

Access is usually a bit easier in the winter.

“We go there in the winter months. I like to go there from the Trans Canada Highway. I can walk so far to Park Road, and I can take a direct line because it’s wintertime, everything’s frozen, and I can walk straight and true. I can walk one way in about hour,” said White.

“Me and David go out for a walk just to check and see that everything is all right. Sometimes we’ll be on a skidoo or something.”

Since Fiona, the province did bring in an excavator, but White said it did little to improve the situation, though he does not blame the operator.

“I never saw no one out to visit the site to tell the excavator operator what to do and how it was. He went in and, instead of leveling off, he dug a great big trench all about eight feet deep, right through the sand that you were meant to drive through,” explained White.

“Now, you couldn’t get through because the sand was like snow. It drifts, of course, and drifts right full, so that made it worse. Now they did fix the road beyond it because the road to Cheeseman’s Park was washed out as well. He did fix that.”

For those with properties at Cheeseman’s Park, there are a couple of solutions that they want to see addressed by the province sooner rather than later.

“The right thing we’d like to see happen is the trestle fixed, number one. The beach pushed back and add a right of way to the railway bed,” said White.

“What they’ve got to do, they’ve got to put down fill, put down good, hard fill, not sand, and put it over the bed. When you get it to the track, you’re fine. You’re fine, and fix the track a little.”

The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation offered the following statement:

“The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation is working to ensure that the damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona is repaired so that residents and visitors to our province can continue to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of connecting with nature at J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park.

“Access to the T’Railway Provincial Park through the area remains closed at Short’s Pond where the trail was heavily damaged. A contractor will be engaged to repair a trestle, reinstate the surface of the T’Railway in the area and build a water crossing at Short’s Pond.

“While Post-Tropical Storm Fiona changed the shape and structure of the beach at J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, movement of the sand dune is a natural process that occurs in this area. The beach is starting to form new dunes and the department does not interfere with these types of natural processes. Further action may be taken to improve access to the T’Railway Provincial Park once the sand dunes have re-established.”

By Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 03, 2023 at 06:00

This item reprinted with permission from    Wreckhouse Weekly News    Port aux Basques, Newfoundland
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