Celebrating parks

“Building a relationship is very important”


From the smallest siksik to muskoxen, from rock outcrops to waterfalls, ancient tent rings to Arctic poppies that bloom one day and disappear within a week: Canada’s National Parks Day is a time to explore and appreciate national and territorial parks in Nunavut.

And that’s exactly what Cassidy Inuarak and Gabriel Simeonie Billard were racing to do last Saturday on Parks Day, as they sprinted up the path leading to Iqaluit’s Sylvia Grinnell Park, where park employees had organized a day of fun and food, designed to entertain and inform visitors, young and old.

Parks employee Andrew Beveridge took a break on a nearby bench overlooking the Sylvia Grinnell falls, one of Iqaluit’s best-known sights as well as a draw for local residents with fishing rods and tourists with cameras.

In Baker Lake, elders, kids, and many others descended on the Vera Akumalik Visitors’ Centre, where they enjoyed snacks and games for all ages on the beach.

While there are 13 territorial parks, most located nearby communities, Nunavut also has four national parks – Ukkasiksalik near Repulse Bay, Quttinirpaaq on Ellesmere Island, North Baffin’s Sirmilik, and Auyuittuq, between Qikiqtarjuaq and Pangnirtung.

In 2005, these national parks are expected to attract about 500 southern visitors, who will pay $125 in annual entrance fees or $15 a day for use of park facilities.

Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson included a visit to Quttinirpaaq in her tour of Nunavut earlier this summer.

Other regular national park visitors include scientists and researchers and Dept. of National Defense employees. Many are involved in joint Parks Canada projects, such as this summer’s archeological study of Wager Bay.

Next month, a group of 80 students from the 2005 “Students on Ice” expedition will visit Auyuittuq on their way to Iqaluit. Two cruise ships are also expected to call at Tanquary Fiord and Fort Conger in Quttinirpaaq Park: park wardens will be on hand during these visits to make sure delicate sites aren’t damaged.

But, because they are located far from the road network and remain expensive to visit, Nunavut’s parks receive very few outside visitors, compared to the several million who pass through Banff National Park in Alberta every year.

“The number of visitors is really low,” says Nancy Anilniliak, a former Auyuittuq Park manager. “Compared to the 1970s, it’s really low. We used to get 600 to 1,000 visitors to Auyuittuq then.”

This summer marks the first year that Sirmilik park wardens will keep track of who is coming into the park. At Pond Inlet’s Nattinnak Centre, new displays on Sirmilik are also up, providing detailed information about the park’s history, wildlife and land features.

Nunavut’s Parks Canada field unit employs up to 40 people every summer and 25 in the winter, spread out over eight different locations throughout Nunavut – not many, considering national parks cover more than 100,000 square kilometers. About 50 per cent of its employees are Inuit.

Now six years old, the field unit operates under a unique management system, based on cooperation at every level of its operations. Joint park management committees, with community and parks staff, develop management plans for the park and committee members provide direct advice and take part in decision-making.

Quttinirpaaq’s joint management committee wanted to see more emphasis placed on the ancient occupation of the Ellesmere Island park area in interpretive materials, and this will be included in the park’s 15-year management plan, Nunavut’s first, which is expected to go to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in September.

Nunavut’s field unit works closely with the Government of Nunavut and Inuit organizations, working on shared projects and the implementation of the Nunavut land claims.

“Building a relationship is very important as we have many common goals at the community and regional level,” Anilniliak says.

Earlier this month, Anilniliak was named associate field superintendent of Nunavut’s national parks. For the next six months, she’ll work closely with Elizabeth Seale, the current, long-time field unit superintendent, who will retire at the end of the year.

When Anilniliak takes over from Seale, she will become the first Inuk national park superintendent in Canada. Her goals: to increase Inuit participation and employment and complete park management plans.

Anilniliak will continue work on the unit’s newest major project, the Inuit Knowledge Project. The three-year project in Qikiqtarjuaq, Repulse Bay, Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay is looking at specific aspects of Inuit traditional knowledge and seeing how this knowledge can be collected and integrated into management plans and existing scientific information.

“We’re looking at knowledge of the land, animals and plants,” says Seale. “And we’re training local people to collect this knowledge and to ask and design the questions.”

The project’s results will be used to develop monitoring programs in Qikiqtarjuaq, which will suggest where it’s more important to monitor narwhal or clams.

This three-year project will be officially announced when Stéphane Dion, the federal environment minister, visits Nunavut in the beginning of August.

For more information on Nunavut’s territorial parks, consult www.nunavutparks.com and to learn more about Nunavut’s national parks, consult http://www.pc.gc.ca/progs/np-pn/index_E.asp.

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