Photo submitted by Nahanni River Adventures, credit Angela Gzowski.
The Nahanni National Park Reserve is one of the destinations chosen for Canadian Geographic’s annual Designated Travel Collection.
The magazine publisher’s commercial travel arm has partnered with Nahanni River Adventures to offer two trips in summer 2023 – both of which have already sold out – and more in 2024.
The 12-day trips will be hosted by Nahanni River Adventures owner Joel Hibbard and an ambassador selected by Canadian Geographic. Dr Gordon Osinski, an earth sciences professor at the University of Western Ontario, will represent the organization on the August 2023 trip.
“Nahanni, being one of the most celebrated wilderness rivers in Canada, was a place they were interested in sharing,” said Hibbard. “For years, they’ve done articles and talked about the history of the region, but now they’re trying to bring people into this place, into Denendeh, to provide a deeper understanding of Nahanni National Park.”
Osinki’s role will be to provide some of that context.
“He’s going to really dive into the incredible geological features in the region, which is one of the reasons it was selected as a Unesco World Heritage Site,” said Hibbard.
The trips will end in Nahanni Butte and include a shuttle across the river by John Murray Konisenta, who runs Nahanni River Expediting, a boat service in the community.
For Nahanni Butte, it’s part of an exciting trend.
“After the Covid pandemic, we have seen a surge in tourism,” said Nahæâ Dehé band manager Soham Srimani. “And going forward, I expect it to increase.”
Srimani and Chief Steve Vital anticipate that the Canadian Geographic program, along with a Parks Canada deal to increase investment announced earlier in October, will bring many more visitors in the coming year.
“We’re expecting from 25 to 30 percent more tourists. And if that happens, that will be really good for the economy of the community,” Srimani said.
Arbour, boat launch and stage
In 2021, the pandemic hit the Northwest Territories’ skyrocketing tourism industry like a ton of bricks. Nahanni River Adventures and Nahanni River Expediting were some of the lucky ones, and Hibbard says it’s both exciting and bittersweet to be announcing the new initiative on the other side of that experience.
“There’s a sense of relief,” he said. “My earliest memories are of playing with kids my own age in Nahanni Butte when we were based there in the 80s, and to continue these relationships just means the world to us. But the fact that other businesses didn’t make it is a heartbreaker. We sit on tourism boards in the Yukon and in the Northwest Territories and it was just awful, throughout the pandemic.”
During a difficult year, many embarked on ambitious new ideas and strategies, including a more united approach to running their organizations.
“Partnering with other businesses, with local communities, is a really crucial way for the industry to survive tough times,” said Hibbard. “And if we can find ways to work collaboratively, we can be a strong and vibrant industry once again in the North.”
In the same spirit, the community of Nahanni Butte and Parks Canada worked together on the Ndahecho Gondié Gháádé Agreement, which will create jobs and give the community more control over the Nahanni Natural Park Reserve.
“The Nahʔą Dehé people are proud Guardians of these lands and waters,” said Chief Steve Vital when the deal was first announced. “Signing this agreement provides our community with the resources to honour this responsibility to our Elders and ancestors, and gives our youth opportunities to learn and prosper as they do it.”
The Nahʔą Dehé Dene Band has already used a portion of the funding to hire Indigenous-led consulting group Innovative Business Solutions to create a tourism strategy. The band has also embarked on beautification projects such as an arbour, upgrades to the local campground, a boat launch and an outdoor performance stage.
The shared governance agreement, as well as the park itself, is an important point of pride for the community – and as a once-promising industry bounces back from the brink, it’s a place travel operators and local businesses hope can be shared.
“Northerners have so much to be proud of,” said Hibbard.
“That’s why I think it’s important for us to celebrate and promote these natural areas, where we can go and contemplate our place in this world.”