Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park is a provincial park in the North and Central Coast of British Columbia. It is part of the Kluane-Wrangell-St. Elias-Glacier Bay-Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park covers an area of 9,580 km² (3,700 sq mi), which is larger than Cyprus.
The park is situated in the northwestern corner of British Columbia, bordering the American state of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory. It is nestled between Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon and Glacier Bay & Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks and Preserves in Alaska. It is part of the Kluane-Wrangell-St. Elias-Glacier Bay-Tatshenshini-
The park was established in 1993 after an intensive campaign by Canadian and American conservation organizations to halt mining exploration and development in the area, and protect the area for its strong natural heritage and biodiversity values.
Over the centuries, numerous indigenous peoples lived in this area, including the historic Tlingit and Southern Tutchone, who built fishing villages along the rivers. The eastern edge of the park follows an ancient trade route used by the Chilkat (a Tlingit people) to barter with the Tutchone.
In the mid-19th century, the sudden breakup of a natural dam on the Alsek River caused a severe flood. The dam had been formed by the advance of a glacier across the entire Alsek River channel; the obstructed river formed a large temporary lake upstream of the blockage. A wall of water 7 m (23 ft) high and 15 m (49 ft) wide swept an entire Tutchone village into the sea at Dry Bay, killing all the inhabitants.
Tatshenshini-Alsek was one of the last areas of British Columbia to be mapped and explored. In the 1960s the first geological exploration for minerals took place in the area. Significant copper deposits were found in the vicinity of Windy Craggy Mountain, in the middle of the Tatshenshini region. In the mid-1970s two companies began rafting the Tatshenshini (aka "the Tat", a term also used to refer to the region) and Alsek rivers for the first time. In the mid-1980s a proposal surfaced to develop Windy Craggy peak into a huge open-pit mine.
In 1991 Tatshenshini International was established, linking together the top 50 conservation organisations in North America. An extremely intensive campaign followed in Canada and in the United States, particularly the U.S. Congress and eventually the White House, when the active involvement of then Vice-President Al Gore was enlisted. The BC government under Premier Harcourt decided in June 1993 to protect Tatshenshini-Alsek as a Class A park.
In combination with the adjoining national parks, this completed protection of the world's largest international park complex. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) proposed the area for protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Kluane-Wrangell-St. Elias-Glacier Bay-Tatshenshini-Alsek transfrontalier park system comprising Kluane, Wrangell-St Elias, Glacier Bay and Tatshenshini-Alsek parks, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 for the spectacular glacier and icefield landscapes, in addition to the importance of its habitat for grizzly bears, caribou and Dall sheep.
In 1999, a party of sheep hunters found artifacts and remains of a young male at the foot of a glacier in the park; he was later called Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, or "Long Ago Man Found". The well-preserved frozen body turned out to be between 300 and 550 years old. Representatives of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations were consulted for this find on their historic territory, and they named the young man. In addition, they agreed to scientific and DNA testing of the remains. Researchers recruited volunteers to see if people could be found who were genetically related to the "iceman". Some 241 volunteers were tested from the area Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, and related peoples in Yukon, British Columbia and Alaska. Seventeen living relatives, including two sisters, were found in the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations who are related through a mitochondrial DNA match of the direct female line. Fifteen of these 17 identify as Wolf clan, suggesting the young man also belonged to that clan. In the matrilineal kinship system, children are considered born into their mother's clan, and descent is figured through the mother's line.
The Alsek and Tatshenshini rivers flow through the park in glacier-carved U-shaped valleys. These valleys through the coastal mountains allow cool, moist ocean air into the cold interior. The quick change from ocean to interior environment, frequent floods, landslides and avalanches, a varied geology and great elevation changes have together created an exceptionally diverse range of habitat conditions.
Alsek Ranges are situated there and Mount Fairweather, at 4,671 metres (15,325 ft) is the province’s highest peak. The Tatshenshini-Alsek area lies in a region of high earthquake activity. Slippages along the Fairweather and Hubbard/Boarder Faults to the west and the Denali Fault to the north cause regular quakes.
Flora and fauna
Tatshenshini-Alsek Park supports a large grizzly bear population. A green area that cuts through a barrier of mountain and ice connects coastal and interior grizzly bear populations and provides a perfect habitat. The park is the only Canadian home of the glacier bear. This extremely rare blue-grey colour phase of the black bear is found only within the park and just over the border into the United States.
As well as bears, Tatshenshini-Alsek Park also supports Dall's sheep, and exceptional numbers of mountain goats, Kenai moose, grey wolves, eagles (bald and golden), falcons (peregrine and gyr), and trumpeter swans. Along the coastline, sea lions and humpback whales can be seen.
The valley of the upper Tatshenshini is characterized by open sub-alpine forests, often with extensive poplar stands and alpine tundra. The poplar stands are unusual because of their dense alder thickets and carpets of “northern ground cone”, a parasitic plant, rarely found in the province, which is an important grizzly bear food. The broad middle reaches of the Tatshenshini flow past extensive gravel bars, large alluvial fans and the jagged ridges of the Alsek Ranges. The sloping fans and gravel bars are carpeted in meadows of flowers at a scale uncommon in the province.
Below the mouth of the O’Connor River, the Tatshenshini is dramatically different. The river pours through a braided channel that is over a kilometre wide; expansive views of the glacier-covered St. Elias Ranges dominate the west. Here the coastal influence begins to be felt, while high winds and heavy snowpacks are common. Scientists studying the area say the mixed spruce-willow-birch forest found along this stretch of the river is unique in BC.
Fees and permits
The BC Parks River fee (2018):
- Prime Season dates - $125 per person, per trip, for Dry Bay takeouts, between July 6 and August 30
- Shoulder Season dates - $100 per person, per trip, for Dry Bay takeouts, for all other dates
All trips on the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers, which end at Dry Bay Alaska, require a permit issued through the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Make sure you have the necessary permit before paying the fee; do not pay this fee if you do not have a permit.
- Kayakers and rafters are drawn to the two magnificent river systems.
- Hikers and mountaineers confront a near-endless pristine wilderness that includes everything from alpine meadows to the jagged edges of the Alsek Ranges and Mt. Fairweather, at 4,633 metres the province’s highest peak.
- Mountain bikers can explore old mining roads and other interesting and challenging terrain.
- The Haines Highway provides an opportunity to see much of the same unusual plant and animal diversity that river users experience.
Buy, eat, and drink
- Haines Junction, Yukon, is the nearest settlement.
There are no lodges in the park.
There are no serviced campsites in the park.
Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed, but no facilities are provided.
During your trip through Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, you are in the traditional lands of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. You are guests on traditional native lands, and if you stop at Shäwshe (Dalton Post), you are on lands legally owned by the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Please respect their land use regulations and requirements.
No motorized vehicles are allowed off the highway, except in the winter when snowmobiling is allowed within a specified area. Take special care to minimize impact on the landscape. Please pack out your litter and plan any camping or campfires so there is no evidence of your passage.
The Tatshenshini-Alsek area lies in a region of high earthquake activity. Slippage along the Fairweather and Hubbard/Boarder Faults to the west and the Denali Fault to the north cause regular quakes. The Yakutat Gap, about 150 km off of the Alaska coast has registered some of the biggest earthquakes in history.