Developing Hartland’s waterfront vision

by | Jun 4, 2024

Tapping into the Covered Bridge Community’s tourism potential

The world’s longest covered bridge is a New Brunswick icon and world-acclaimed attraction, drawing thousands of visitors to downtown Hartland each year. The challenge is encouraging visitors to spend more time and money in the Carleton County community described as the “Little Town, Big Heart.”

That challenge was on the minds of a few dozen residents and officials on May 21 when they gathered at an open house in the Hartland Baptist Church on the downtown waterfront they hope to revitalize.

Dan Glenn of Glenn Group led the discussion, outlining the challenges, ideas, opportunities, and potential funding partners needed to make the picturesque and historic little hamlet a tourist draw and economic driver. 

Dan Glenn of Glenn Group, left, joins Woodstock Mayor Tracey DeMerchant, centre, and the town’s Communication and Development Specialist Michelle Derrah at the May 21 open house. (Jim Dumville photo)

Glenn explained that getting visitors is not the problem, noting the town welcomes an estimated 70,000 tourists each summer. 

“The key is to get them to stay,” he said. “If you’re not selling anything, it’s not economic growth.”

The Glenn Group, landscape architects and park planners, offer a wealth of experience and success throughout New Brunswick and other parts of Canada. 

Glenn cited several examples of the firm’s efforts, including such New Brunswick tourist landmarks as Kingsbrae Gardens in St. Andrews, the Fundy Trail Parkway, Hopewell Rocks and Reversing Falls in Saint John. The company’s planning efforts are well established along the St. John River, including the recent waterfront upgrade in Nackawic and the Grand Falls Gorge. 

In fact, Glenn noted that the group had enhanced Hartland’s waterfront 30 years ago. 

The open house, hosted by Glenn and Hartland’s Communications and Development Specialist Michelle Derrah, sought to explain the process and seek input surrounding the revitalization of the waterfront. 

In addition to residents, Mayor Tracey DeMerchant, several councillors and, Carleton MLA and Early Childhood and Education Minister Bill Hogan attended the meeting. 

Following the open house, DeMerchant said the town is willing to invest in downtown revitalization. Still, success requires private investment to provide products and services for residents and visitors. 

“It’s important to differentiate between the investment of the town and the private sector,” she said. 

DeMerchant said the town, with federal and provincial funding support, is willing to provide the required public infrastructure, but the business investment must come from private sources. 

“The town can build something to attract business investment,” she explained. 

Glenn outlined five guiding principles for a successful project: local culture and sense of place, industry and personal livelihoods, environment and scenery, history and heritage, and water access.

Glenn and many visitors cited easy access to the St. John River as a central brick in any waterfront revitalization. Glenn’s presentation included plans for a marina and associated support businesses to take advantage of the significant increase in boating interests since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The proposed park south of the Hartland Covered Bridge could be an important asset in the town’s downtown revitalization plans. (Jim Dumville photo)

He cited, for example, bass anglers who told him the proper infrastructure could make the community ideal for bass tournaments. A marina would also draw recreational boaters, kayakers, and canoeists. He added that kayak and canoe rentals should be part of a marina project. 

Glenn explained that a compelling tourist destination must have a central draw and a variety of options for all age groups. He said Hartland’s revitalization plan could build upon existing assets but must offer more, including meal and lodging options. 

He said the existing assets include the bridge, the river, the existing park, the planned park near the Baptist church, and a partial walking and biking trail system. 

Glenn and several residents noted the need to enhance the tourist information centre. Glenn added that the plan should also include improvements to the historic Dr. Walter Chestnut Public Library. 

Many agreed an extended walking and biking trail would encourage visitors to travel throughout the waterfront. 

Several attendees questioned how to encourage investment on the Somerville side of the bridge. Glenn noted that some entrepreneurs have studied options in the past, but they have never materialized. 

Other suggestions included steps to make downtown Hartland a destination for off-road-vehicle and snowmobile enthusiasts. 

Glenn partially dismissed suggestions of a full-service campground, noting such businesses require at least 100 filled lots to make them profitable. He added, however, that someone could come forward with a feasible plan. 

Regardless of the final plan, Glenn said, “Think big” and “think smart.”  He said the final plan should appeal to a younger and more diverse market and use technology. 

Glenn recounted the process since the town engaged his company to assist in the feasibility study and cost of the revitalization. 

He explained his group already held discussions with federal and provincial funding partners, such as ACOA and the Regional Development Corporation (RDC). 

Glenn said officials indicated the type of proposals and applications most likely to gain approval. He estimated that a well-planned proposal could draw up to 80 per cent of the cost from provincial and federal sources, leaving the town facing only 20 per cent. 

He said the town and Glenn Group also started discussions with government departments, First Nations, sports and fish guides, N.B. Power and other stakeholders. 

While the downtown revitalization is geared to attract visitors, Glenn said it must appeal to Hartland residents. 

“If it doesn’t work for the people of Hartland, it won’t work for anyone,” he said. 

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