After warm weather caused late starts and temporary closures, the Fort Chipewyan winter road will close at noon on Tuesday.
The winter road opened on December 31 but a mild January weakened an ice crossing and forced the road to close temporarily. Shifting ice then closed the winter road for 24 hours in February.
Tuesday will mark the road’s shortest season since 2005-06, but community leaders say enough supplies were hauled into Fort Chipewyan to last until next winter.
The road has been open for fewer than 100 days since the 2016-17 season. Warm weather has caused temporary road closures in 2005-06, 2006-07, 2008-09, and now 2020-21.
Chief Peter Powder of the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) said trucks brought 16 of 19 housing units up the road this winter. He considers this a success, considering the tight window to transport heavy loads.
“We feel really good about this accomplishment because 16 families are going to get new homes,” said Powder. “It puts a smile on my face because this is what we’re here to do.”
Powder confirmed Fort Chipewyan was able to bring enough fuel to get the hamlet through another year, along with food and other supplies.
“We’re looking at what’s most important in life,” said Powder. “You want shelter, you want food, and you want to have heat in your house. We met all those targets.”
In a Facebook live video on Wednesday, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) said the community is stocked until next winter.
“It’s all been completed and our job is done here,” said Adam. “High water continues to be factor so now we have to worry about people out in the bush and have to be mindful that flood season is coming upon us again.”
As the winter road season closes, President Kendrick Cardinal of Fort Chipewyan Métis Local #125 reminded travellers to drive safely.
“We travelled the road recently and there’s a bit of water, and it’s kind-of rough but it’s still safe for travel,” said Cardinal. “It’s very important to be cautious and obey all speed limits now.”
With warmer weather, the snow is melting and a 120-kilometre section of the winter road through the sandhills is soft with ruts and potholes. Vehicles with four-wheel drive and high clearance are strongly recommended by the municipality.
Vincent McDermott contributed reporting.