The Nares River is like an accidental time capsule. Beneath the surface of the water, you’ll find everything from a flatscreen TV to pieces of a 100-year-old steamship. And that’s just the top layer.
“I knew there was stuff down there, but I didn’t think there was that much,” says Danny Cresswell, a land guardian with the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. This past spring, he realized how wrong he was.
It was April. Cresswell wasn’t on the clock. Not officially, anyway. As a land guardian though, the line can be blurry. You don’t really punch out when the clock strikes 5 p.m. Especially not when you’re a curious guy, which Cresswell is.
That’s why, when he saw wetsuit-clad figures by the water in downtown Carcross, he started chatting with them.
One of the crew was Scott Boone, a Whitehorse diver. He and his friends, James Patterson and Weronika Murray, often spend their weekends diving in bodies of water around the Yukon. Sometimes it’s just to explore; other times they’re trying to retrieve lost items, like a wedding band in Schwatka Lake or a cell phone that slipped through an ice fishing hole on Chadburn Lake.
When Boone told Cresswell how much garbage he’d seen on what was initially just an adventure dive, Cresswell’s mind started turning.
“I thought, ‘Maybe we should be cleaning that up. We’re the headwaters of the Yukon River,’” he says over the phone in early June. But Crewsswell was thinking longer-term. He asked the divers to come back and get some photos of the garbage so he could put together a proposal that might secure funding for a clean-up effort in spring 2024.
Instead, Boone and his crew returned to Carcross the next weekend and started pulling things out of the river. Patterson and Murray freedived, holding their breath and bringing up smaller objects, like cups, broken bottles and ceramic jugs. Boone wore his scuba gear. All three were back in their wetsuits. It was only five degrees that day and they were in the water for hours. Cresswell gathered volunteers to assist. Passers-by joined the effort. Soon they had a team on the bridge with winches, someone else with a skid steer and helpers on the shore with side-by-sides. They dragged up tires and TVs and giant chunks of metal. They quickly filled a 16-foot dump trailer with an odd mix of artifacts spanning a century. Bikes, batteries, conduit and old plates.
At the end of the day, when divers and volunteers gathered for a post-clean-up BBQ by the SS Tutshi, Cresswell asked how much of a dent they’d made.
You can’t even tell we did anything. That’s what Boone said.
Cresswell is thinking about doing it again next year, maybe as a more formal project. You can only ask volunteers for so much, he says, and they did a lot.
It’s shocking, what you find and where you find it. Wandering in the bush, he’s come across old batteries in places that are more difficult to access than the landfill would be. He thinks about that, and about the trash under the bridge, and about the water further down the river. It’s darker there, he says.
“People can’t drink it,” he says. “Imagine what our salmon and fish are going through.”
Cresswell knows the work they did this spring was just a start, but there are so many tributaries to the Yukon River, he says. Imagine if everybody did their bit.
Contact Amy Kenny at email@example.com