Northern operator wants in on Nahanni tourism


The owner of a Yellowknife-based paddling company said he will be lobbying for changes to the outfitter licensing process in Nahanni National Park Reserve to give local companies, such as his, a fair shake.

Jackpine Paddle’s Dan Wong said the current policy locks out local startups, such as his, from the NWT’s most famous paddling destination.

Dan Wong, owner of Jackpine Paddle out of Yellowknife, was told there were no licenses available to operate in Nahanni National Park Reserve beyond the three already in use by southern companies and another held in reserve for use by a Deh Cho company. Pictured here are Victoria Falls, one of the destinations Jackpine Paddle would take potential groups. photos courtesy of Dan Wong

“It’s Yellowstone, it’s Kluane, it’s Banff, Jasper, Algonquin – it’s all these parks in one,” said Wong of Nahanni.

“It really has everything. The hiking is world-class, the paddling is world-class, the scenery is world-class.”

In a written statement to News/North, Nahanni superintendent Jon Tsetso said a new draft policy for operator business licences in both Nahanni and Naats’ihch’oh national park reserves is under development and will be ready for public review this summer.

“The consultation process will follow a timeline that is appropriate for our Indigenous cooperative management partners and consistent with sound park management practices,” stated Tsetso.

Wong started Jackpine Paddle two years ago, steadily growing its offerings from canoe paddling courses to youth camps to, this year, kayak expeditions on the North and East Arms of Great Slave Lake.

Wong himself used to be a guide for Blackfeather, one of the three operators with a Nahanni licence, on Sahtu river trips and he has paddled extensively throughout the NWT and Yukon.

Dan Wong started Jackpine Paddle two years ago and used to be a guide for Blackfeather, one of the three operators with a Nahanni licence.

As Jackpine grew, he obtained licences to run tours in the North Slave and the Sahtu, but hit a snag when he was told there was no possibility of getting a licence in Nahanni.

Wong said he is “cautiously optimistic” about developing a new policy that would allow for a more competitive process than the current one, which has had the available licences reissued to the same companies year after year.

“To go from the status quo to a completely level playing field where it’s free and fair for all, it seems like a bit much at this point, but we’ll see,” said Wong.

He said the three current outfitters, while solid businesses, don’t contribute as much to the local economies as local outfitters would. Nahanni River Adventures is based in Whitehorse,

Blackfeather is based in Ontario and Nahanni Wild is based in Alberta.

With guides flown in and food purchased down south, other than fresh food bought locally, Wong said there isn’t much money spent locally except for transportation and brief accommodation around trips.

A local company with local staff would seem to contribute better to the North, he said, simply through factors of “where the food is prepared, where the workforce actually comes from, how the communities are actually involved.”

“There’s more at stake for me, here, because it’s where I grew up and where I plan to be for a long time,” said Wong.