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Boating groups seek space on Schwatka Lake

Representatives from two Yukon water sports groups presented their vision of a recreation hub on Schwatka Lake to Whitehorse's city council on Monday night.

Representatives from two Yukon water sports groups presented their vision of a recreation hub on Schwatka Lake to Whitehorse’s city council on Monday night.

Daniel Girouard of the Yukon Canoe Kayak Club and Shannon Jones of the Yukon Breeze Sailing Society spoke to council about the possibility of setting up a permanent home, for their groups and others, on the shore of Schwatka.

In the short term, they are seeking permission to store boats and other gear in sea-cans near the lake, and are also asking for access to a boat dock or ramp, bathroom facilities, shelter of some sort, and a parking area.

In the longer term, they envision a year-round permanent facility for a variety of recreational groups, including office space, change rooms, and a multi-purpose room - think Mount McIntyre for water sports. They told council that in addition to their own groups they already have support for the project from the Yukon River Marathon Paddling Association, Yukon Wind Sport, and local businesses Equinox Adventures, Yukan Canoe, and Up North Adventures.

Girouard told council that the groups would like to locate their base on the southwest side of Schwatka, just south of the floatplane docks at the point where Miles Canyon Road curves uphill and away from the lake. There’s an existing parking pullout and a stretch of empty government land there. It’s also more accessible than the existing boat ramp on the southeast side of the lake, which requires a longer drive down Chadburn Lake Road.

Councillor Kirk Cameron asked both presenters how they planned to deal with the competing traffic on Schwatka Lake - floatplanes, powerboats and other users. Girouard explained that while the groups would access the water from the southwest side of the lake, the ideal location for setting up lanes for racing would be in a sheltered bay on the southeast side. So after paddling out from their ramp, boaters would be out of the planes’ way.

He also suggested that most powerboaters use the existing southeast boat ramp and head upriver towards Marsh Lake from there - they don’t spend their time on Schwatka itself. Jones added that the floatplane companies are already in support of the project, because they expect that a permanent city presence near their docks would reduce incidences of vandalism.

The Yukon Canoe Kayak Club has more than 200 members, and Girouard pointed out that the group represents only a fraction of the Yukon’s paddlers - so demand for a Schwatka facility, he argued, would be high. The group is particularly keen to improve its sprint paddling courses and competitions. Sprint canoeing and kayaking are both Olympic sports, and last summer the YCKC sent two Yukon paddlers to compete at the summer Canada Games. The goal is to send 12 Yukoners to the next Canada Games in 2017.

The Yukon Breeze Sailing Society is less well known. The group was incorporated as a non-profit in 2011, and for the past several summers it has imported instructors and boats from British Columbia to offer sailing camps for Yukon youth. The goal, said Jones, is to build the society’s presence and its capacity to offer courses taught by Yukoners. The group plans to purchase its own boats, certify and hire local instructors, and offer an expanded selection of courses and camps in 2014.

The society has secured funding for its boat purchases and expanded programming, but is in serious need of storage facilities and a staging area, Jones said.

The request from the two groups is complicated by the fact that the land in question is in the midst of a possible re-zoning process. The area currently belongs to the territory, but the city is seeking to acquire and develop it. There are also existing private docks in the area whose permits are reissued by the city each year.

Girouard and Jones told council that their 2014 programming would still go ahead without the new space, just in a reduced capacity. They need an answer by early June in order to plan for the summer.

“I think Schwatka Lake is a wonderful asset to the city,” Girouard told council. “We should be able to access it for recreational purposes.”