Nahanni National Park World Heritage Site
Parc national Nahanni, Canada
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Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Dehcho Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada, approximately 500 km (311 mi) west of Yellowknife, protects a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region. The centrepiece of the park is the South Nahanni River. Four great canyons, called First, Second, Third and Fourth Canyon, line this spectacular whitewater river. The name Nahanni comes from the indigenous Dene language name for the area; Nahʔa Dehé, which means "river of the land of the Nahʔa people".
At Virginia Falls or Nailicho in Dene, the river plunges 90 m (295 ft) in a thunderous plume. Including the Sluice Box Rapids above the falls, it is more than twice the height of Niagara Falls. In the centre of the falls is a dramatic spire of resistant rock, called Mason's Rock after Bill Mason, the famous Canadian canoeist, author, and filmmaker. The falls were initially located downstream at the East end of Fourth Canyon, and over the centuries carved through the limestone rock that surrounds the river. This continuous erosion shifted the falls upstream and created the Fourth Canyon. Due to the mist, the immediate vicinity of the falls is home to several rare orchid species. There is a proposal to rename the falls after former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau. Downstream from the falls, there are many notable rapids on the river including Figure Eight, George's Riffle, and Lafferty's Riffle.
The park's sulphur hot springs, alpine tundra, mountain ranges, and forests of spruce and aspen are home to many species of birds, fish and mammals. At Rabbitkettle Hotsprings can be found the largest tufa mounds in Canada with the North Mound being 30 m (98 ft) high, 60 m (197 ft) wide and an estimated 10,000 years old. The park lies within three of Canada's ecozones, the Taiga Cordillera in the west, the Taiga Plains in the east and a small southern portion in the Boreal Cordillera.
The diverse range of soils offers several specialized and uncommon habitats. More than 700 species of vascular plants and 300 species of both bryophytes and lichen can be found in the park, giving it a richer variety than any other area in the NWT. Nahanni aster is a very rare subspecies of aster found only in the Park.
Dene peoples have used the lands around Nahanni National Park Reserve for thousands of years. The first human occupation of the area is estimated to have occurred 9,000-10,000 years ago. Evidence of prehistoric human use has been found at Yohin Lake and a few other sites within the park. The local oral history contains many references to the Naha tribe, a mountain-dwelling people who used to raid settlements in the adjacent lowlands. These people are said to have rather quickly and mysteriously disappeared.
First contact with European fur traders expanding into the region occurred in the 18th century, and was increased with Alexander Mackenzie's exploration of the Mackenzie River (Deh Cho), and building of trading posts at Fort Simpson and Fort Liard. During the 19th century, most Dene families left their nomadic lifestyles and settled into more permanent communities, often close to the trading posts. Permanent settlements were established at locations such as Nahanni Butte, Fort Liard and Fort Simpson.
In the late 19th century, the Mountain Indians of the Nahanni region would travel down the Nahanni River each spring in mooseskin boats to trade the winter take of furs. These boats, based on the Hudson Bay York boats, were up to 20 metres in length. Constructed from six to ten untanned moose hides sewn together and stretched over a spruce pole frame, these boats would transport entire families, their dogs and cargo of furs down the river during high water. Upon arrival the boat was dismantled and the hides traded along with the furs. Following a visit to the forts, these people would return to the high country with only what they could carry on their pack dogs.
The stories of the Naha, and dangerous landscape that they inhabited, grew in stature with the Klondike gold rush as some explorers attempted to use the Nahanni as a path to the famous gold fields of the Yukon, or make their fortune on the Flat and South Nahanni rivers. Although no significant gold was found, legends of haunted valleys and lost gold emerged after the headless corpses of Métis prospectors Willie and Frank McLeod were found around 1908. In the years that followed, mysterious deaths of other prospectors added to the legends. The names of park features such as Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Headless Range and the Funeral Range, bear testimony to these stories and legends.
In 1964, explorer parachutist Jean Poirel from Montreal jumped at its source 500 km North of Yellowknife, followed by his teammate Bertrand Bordet. Jean Poirel imagined the idea of going down the river with inflatable dinghies, opening the path to a new “rafting” sport. During the following four consecutive expeditions in the valley Jean Poirel discovered more that 250 caverns. The most important contained 116 Dall sheep’s skeletons (carbon-14 dated to 2500 years Bc); Jean Poirel named it "Valerie Cavern" after his daughter. He took topographic notes and drew detailed maps, paving the way for the park's creation. During his last expedition in 1972, he escorted Pierre Trudeau, who came in person to estimate this superb and fascinating region.
Originally established in 1972, by then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the park was 4,766 km2 (1,840 sq mi) in area. The park was in "reserve" status pending settlement of outstanding Aboriginal land claims in the region. In 2003, an agreement between the Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada gave temporary protection to 23,000 km2 (8,880 sq mi). In August 2007, the federal government added an extra 5,400 km2 (2,085 sq mi).
A visitor centre in Fort Simpson features displays on the history, culture and geography of the area. The park was among the world's first four natural heritage locations to be inscribed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1978. The South Nahanni River achieved Canadian Heritage River status in 1987. Presently around 800–900 people visit the park every year. The only practical way to get to Nahanni National Park is by floatplane or by helicopter.
On 9 June 2009 the Canadian Government, with the Dehcho First Nations, announced legislation that will increase the area of Nahanni National Park to cover around 30,000 km2 (11,583 sq mi), including 91% of the Greater Nahanni ecosystem in the Dehcho region and most of the South Nahanni River watershed.
The new park area is estimated to be the home of around 500 grizzly bears, two herds of woodland caribou, as well as species of alpine sheep and goats and other species. The new boundary will include the highest mountains and largest ice fields in the Northwest Territories.
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