Proposed park pitched for St. Elias region

A new park on the traditional lands of the Kluane and White River First Nations could be approved by 2017.

A new park on the traditional lands of the Kluane and White River First Nations could be approved by 2017.

The 2,984 square kilometres of protected area, named Asi Keyi, would complete land slated for protection in the world-renowned eco-region of the St. Elias mountains. The proposed park is nestled between the glacier parks of Kluane to the south, Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay parks to the west and British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek to the southeast.

The St. Elias region is host to a network of icefields, glacier valleys and towering mountains. Asi Keyi is adorned with rainbow-coloured sediments in the ancient volcanic rock. Its Klutlan glacier was once blanketed in a heavy layer of volcanic ash and is now home to a “drunken” forest of trees that tilt from the glacial ice beneath them melting and shifting.

The goal of the four-member steering committee charged with establishing the park agreement is to play on its strengths: its natural beauty and isolation.

The nearest road-access point is the Alaska Highway more than 20 kilometres away, so unless you have a horse, a snowmobile, a helicopter or a trekker’s zeal for adventure, you are out of luck.

While the Kluane and White River First Nations have been accessing the area for generations, negotiations over what they envisage for its future use and access hasn’t yet been decided.

So far, the expressed goals have been to maintain the pristine state of the region, though there is some interest in establishing eco-tourism ventures in the future, said Jean Langlois, Yukon’s manager of park planning and member of the steering committee.

This won’t change much: the park is already off-limits for mining and public hunting.

The boundaries of Asi Keyi were established with the signing of the Kluane First Nation Final Agreement in 2003. Asi Keyi, which translates to “my grandfather’s country” in Southern Tutchone, carries historical and present significance for Kluane and White River peoples. Evidence of hunting and trapping sites, former camps and trails can still be found.

The park wouldn’t alter the rights – including hunting – of the Kluane and White River peoples.

Last summer elders from both First Nations spoke about how important it was to keep the area in its natural condition. The public will be asked for input this fall and in the spring of 2017 when the draft plan should be ready. For more information visit

www.asikeyipark.ca.

Contact Lauren Kaljur at

lauren.kaljur@yukon-news.com

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