Feeling the draw
Blyth and Borcoman answer the call of Nahanni

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 01/99) - As an artist, Chuck Blyth found himself envisioning scenes from Nahanni Park and drawing pictures from Nahanni Park long after leaving his position as Nahanni's chief park warden in the late 1980s.

"There's a magical quality to it, it sticks with you," Blyth said. "I always knew I wanted to come back here, but I didn't know it was going to come up this fast."

Blyth returned in June to fill in as the acting superintendent. He was appointed to the position permanently in August.

One of the staff members he has become acquainted with is Sophie Borcoman, the park's senior heritage programs officer since January.

Borcoman had previously worked in parks in the central Rockies, most recently at Yoho and Kootenay parks in British Columbia. Coming North offered her a chance to experience a park with a pristine environment and no infrastructure.

"It was a novelty to get to a park with no roads -- that was the appeal for me. And also to live up North in a Northern community," she said.

Borcoman defines her job as "communications specialist" for the park. She visits schools and communities to discuss environmental education, consults with river operators such as the Nahanni River Outfitters Association and is designing a template for the park's official Web site.

She also provides information to park visitors and handles the "interpretive" aspects of the park, such as things dealing with natural and human history. The perks of the job include going on trips such as the Nahanni Rafters voyage.

Acting as an interpreter, she described the flora and fauna as well as the geology as they passed through canyons. She and another guide even got to dress up as prospectors from another era.

"We had five days growth on our faces, got to wear woolen shirts and scratchy pants ... that was pretty fun," she recalled. "For me it was a great opportunity to get to know the kids in the community better."

It was also proof that the students could adjust to a lifestyle without modern conveniences. Some students were initially vocal about missing television and showers, but when she met up with them in Fort Simpson a week later, they said they would gladly trade those things for another chance to return to the park.

"That was a wonderful response," she said.

For Blyth, he was already aware of the effect Nahanni Park can have on others as it does on him.

As park superintendent he oversees nine historic sites in the southwest portion of the NWT ranging from plaques or monuments to cultural landscapes (like Grizzly Bear Mountains) to the Nahanni National Park Reserve itself.

His duties entail providing direction and leadership to the staff, whom he said are great people, as are the residents of the communities. He added that the First Nations' objective of protecting the land fits in nicely with the Parks Canada's vision.

That vision will be further defined in December as an ecological integrity statement is created for Nahanni National Park Reserve. Scientist and those with substantial traditional knowledge will be invited to design a plan to preserve the ecosystem.

"It's the basic cornerstone of everything you do in parks," he said.

Blyth gets to travel to the park periodically, but much of his frequent travel is to meetings, he said. His last trip to the park was two weeks ago and he had a chance to view the fall colours in all their glory.

"It was just unbelievable," he said. "It was beautiful."