When it comes to a decision about the future of guided tours at Yukon’s Parks Canada sites, it seems like a wait-and-see game for everyone.
Add two more Yukoners to that list. Marsh Lake’s Donna and Mike Larsen are waiting to hear from Parks Canada about their request to form a Friends of Klondike Corridor group and help support the parks they love.
Last year, Parks Canada announced it was ending public tours at the SS Klondike and Dredge No. 4, as well as cutting emergency search and rescue in Kluane.
“Due to the cutbacks to Parks Canada we wanted to look for sort of a strategic approach to finding alternatives that can work for the parks,” Donna said.
She said they looked to the U.S. for inspiration. There are around 100 U.S. national parks with friends groups, some of which are directly involved in running park operations.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we have a friends group for the Klondike to help Parks Canada out?’ That grew a little bit to include a friends group in the U.S. national parks as well,” Donna said.
Because the Klondike Corridor extends south as far as Seattle, Donna said she and Mike plan to include U.S. parks in the friends group as well.
While some friends groups are directly involved with parks through selling retail merchandise and helping run programming, Donna said she envisions the Friends of the Klondike Corridor being more of a facilitator should a private business end up taking over running tours at the SS Klondike and Dredge No. 4.
“It will be driven by what Parks Canada is going to allow the friends group to become involved in. They are going to have to set the priority.
“What we’re waiting on is whether Parks will allow us to be the official friends group. That’s what we need, that status. That’s how you get sponsors. We want to be the officially recognized friends group for the Klondike,” she said.
Parks Canada said it is aware of the proposal but declined to comment on what the group’s future relationship with the parks will be, if any.
At this point, with time running out to save any form of guided tours at the SS Klondike and Dredge No. 4, the Tourism Industry Association is happy to see any possible solution come forward. In January the association put out a call for any private businesses interested in running tours at the SS Klondike and Dredge No. 4, and received 16 replies. The Larsens’ proposal only adds another possibility to speed things up, said TIA chair Neil Hartling.
“We think it’s a great idea that will probably serve the Yukon well for decades to come. Whether it will provide assistance and a solution to this current crisis remains to be seen. It probably could,” said Hartling, adding that TIA doesn’t support any one solution so long as some way is found to save the guided tours before the start of the tourism season in May.
To that end Mike Nixon, the Yukon’s tourism minister, is hoping to sit down with three federal cabinet ministers while he’s in Ottawa next week for Winterlude.
Nixon plans to meet with federal Environment Minister Peter Kent, Tourism Minister Maxime Bernier and Heritage Minister James Moore.
“We’ve been keeping them in the loop,” said Nixon. “They know that the Parks issue is maybe a little bit more polarized in the Yukon because it’s such a small jurisdiction, and those components are important to the tourism economy.”
He’s aware of the Larsens’ proposal and said it’s just one of many that could help solve the Parks problem.
“It’ll be interesting to see. It just speaks to Yukoners about just having a solution, not whining about the problems. That’s what Yukoners are all about. We’re about being crafty and creative and coming up with solutions,” he said.
As for which solution he prefers, Nixon said as long as the sites stay open, he’ll be happy.
“I’m open to all sorts of ideas. I don’t know that there is a best-case scenario other than having these open to Yukoners and to tourists,” Nixon said.
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