Clyde River proposes 16,000 square-km territorial park

Designation would preserve history, and the spectacular fiords of East Baffin



Clyde River residents are banking on a modest tourist boom from the creation of a territorial park out of their parents’ homeland north of the community.

Nunavut environment minister Olayuk Akesuk’s staff will receive a proposal in the coming weeks to carve out a park three times the size of Prince Edward Island, outside of one of the territory’s most impoverished communities.

John Laird, the consultant who wrote the feasibility study with the proposal, said the parkland would prove a major attraction to tourists for its natural beauty, and heritage sites.

“It would increase the tourist numbers,” Laird said in an interview this week. “It’s a spectacular spot. But we’re not looking at mass tourism.”

Laird estimates creating a park would eventually boost tourist numbers from several dozen, to nearly 300 people per year.

The park is a separate project from the proposed bowhead whale sanctuary in Igaliqtuuq, or Isabella Bay, south of the community. Negotiations to establish the sanctuary have been on-going between the federal government and Inuit groups for 20 years.

If negotiations for the sanctuary move forward, the two projects would put an international spotlight on the community, Laird said.

The northward park proposal builds on an umbrella Inuit impact and benefit agreement signed by the premier, NTI, and the regional Inuit organizations in 2001. Unless Nunavut parks staff request more information, Laird’s community-based proposal will reach the minister before next month.

Inuit would keep their hunting rights within the park area, if the proposal is approved.

The government’s next step would be to set up contracts for park infrastructure, like shelters and signs, and hire park managers. They would also need to create a more detailed park plan, and consult the community on the park’s name.

David Monteith, director of Nunavut parks and conservation areas, said his staff will start working on a tourism strategy for the park, after the minister’s approval.

But Monteith said they’ll first need to finalize land-use details with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which holds several parcels of land within the proposed park boundaries.

“We would respect the fact that those lands are owned by QIA,” Monteith said. “Our position would be to relay the interest of the community.”

The large swath of land north of Clyde River already attracts a handful of die-hard campers and mountain climbers.

The 16,000 square-km area stretches westward from Baffin Bay to the Barnes Ice Cap. The mountains and valleys of the land are heavily marked by glacier movement, from the coastal lowlands to the steep fiords vaulting thousands of feet in the air.

The Stewart Valley, near the centre of the proposed park, was celebrated as a potential mountaineering mecca in an article in National Geographic in 1996. Pictures in the magazine showed tourists sleeping in tents 3,000 feet above the ground.

But park enthusiasts expect that Inuit heritage sites, not just the beauty of their land, will also boost tourism in the area.

The proposed park plan notes that Clyde River residents were keen on preserving and researching their former traditional camps scattered through the area.

Until a generation ago, residents were living there in qammaqs and outposts, hunting caribou and polar bear, and fishing along various rivers, including the Kogalu river, which would also be in the park.

Residents want more research done on these traditional camps, and the Thule ruins within the area, as well. The remnants of old stone houses from more than 1,000 years ago sit at the northern edge of the park.

To help preserve their recent history, the community wants the territorial government to develop a map marked with the Inuktitut names of the sites, and natural landmarks in the area, such as Avitujurq, a sloping rock that looks like a bowhead whale.

Loseeosee Aipellee, a former resident of Clyde River who helped with the recent study, said the Inuit history and sheer beauty of the land is bound to attract more tourists, with the help of more infrastructure.

Residents hope the park will bring extra training to outfitters, and possibly establish a visitor’s centre in the community.

“Clyde River is one of those places with high unemployment,” said Aipellee, now working with elders in Iqaluit. “It’ll be very important to the local Inuit people that this area becomes a park.

“I think because it’s so beautiful that tourists will want to keep coming.”

The current proposal estimates it will take five years before the area is officially transformed into a park.

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