Proposed licensing policy for Nahanni park shuts out Northerners, says outfitter

A Yellowknife outfitter says a new licencing policy being considered by Parks Canada for Nahanni National Park Reserve doesn’t offer Northern outfitters much of a chance to run paddling trips in the park.

Dan Wong says Parks Canada's draft policy sets standards that are 'through the stratosphere'

Dan Wong, centre, guiding on the Natla River in the N.W.T. The outfitter says Parks Canada's proposed new licensing policy for Nahanni National Park Reserve wasn't designed with Northern businesses in mind. (Submitted by Dan Wong)

A Yellowknife outfitter says a new licensing policy being considered by Parks Canada for Nahanni National Park Reserve doesn't offer Northern outfitters much of a chance to run paddling trips in the park.

"This is not a change that's designed with Northern businesses in mind," said Dan Wong, the owner of Jack Pine Paddle. "In fact, the way it's currently drafted, there are no Northern paddling businesses that are going to be eligible for a spot on the Nahanni for the foreseeable future."

With its spectacular canyons, waterfalls and whitewater, the Nahanni park is the most popular and well-known wilderness paddling destination in the N.W.T. For more than three decades, three southern-based companies have enjoyed the exclusive right to run trips in the park.

Wong, who is licensed to run trips in the Sahtu and North Slave regions, said the new draft policy seems designed to protect existing outfitters, rather than allowing Northern companies to compete.

Wong points out the draft policy would allow the three companies already doing business in the park to have their licences renewed year after year. If any of those businesses are sold, their licence would be transferred to the new owner.

Dan Wong paddling the South Nahanni River, in N.W.T. He says the qualifications Parks Canada's draft policy requires for licensing are 'through the stratosphere.' (Submitted by Dan Wong)

The proposed policy allows for one new company to be licensed on a trial basis. But to qualify, a business must have three years experience running three trips a year in class III or class IV whitewater.

Wong said no Northern outfitting business has that corporate experience.

"That's a very very high standard, that's through the stratosphere. That's like Red Bull extreme stuff, with clients. You'd very rarely run class IV water in an open canoe," he said. "Nahanni is described as Class I or Class II, beginner or intermediate, though there are tributaries in the upper Nahanni that are spicier."

Under the draft policy, any company that does qualify for a trial licence would have a three-year probationary period during which they would not be allowed to run trips between June 15 and Aug. 15.

"That's basically the entire summer," said Wong. "If you look at the websites of the current licence holders, nine out of ten of their trips run during those dates."

Parks Canada is inviting public comment on the draft policy until Aug. 3.

Northern outfitters shouldn't get preferential treatment: licence holder

The owner of one of the companies that's already licensed said existing licence holders should have a leg up on the competition because they were first to run trips in the park.

"What we're bringing is money and tourists into the N.W.T.," said Wendy Grater of Black Feather.

She pointed out that her company pays payroll taxes, is licensed to do business in the N.W.T. and is a member in good standing of the territory's tourism association.

Grater said Northern outfitters should not be given preferential treatment when it comes to doing business in Nahanni.

An undated photo shows the dramatic Virginia Falls on the South Nahanni River in the Nahanni park. The park is one of the most popular and well-known wilderness paddling destination in the territory. (Handout photo/Canadian Press)

"Frankly, a national park is a Canadian park," she said.

Grater also pointed out that Black Feather — and the other two companies operating in the park — have invested time and money over the years to market the park and grow their businesses.

Spectacular Northwest Territories, the territorial tourism association, agrees with Grater. In a policy its board developed for doing business in national parks, it said northern companies should not be given any preference.

In an outline of its parks policy, the association said Northern-based businesses don't need a leg up on their southern competitors because of the growth of tourism in national parks.

It also said it opposes preferential treatment for Northern outfitters because that could backfire if they ever tried to do business in national parks outside the N.W.T., potentially squeezing them out of markets in other provinces and territories.

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