Locals celebrate Mealy Mountain becoming national park
Aboriginal groups and tour operators alike are celebrating the recent announcement that Labrador's Mealy Mountains is now officially a national park.
There have been talks of making the area national property since the mid 1970s, and many have been waiting years for progress.
When Pete Barrett started her tour company Experience Labrador in 1999, she thought the creation of the park was just around the corner.
Barrett and her husband have been certified in necessary courses to work with Parks Canada since 2003.
"It was just waiting each year. I think we were getting worn down … it was frustrating," Barrett said. "Business has not been as good as what it could have been."
Being a national park means that the area will be properly preserved, receive more government assistance, and likely experience an increase in tourism.
Barrett said she's excited about the designation, but adds the region will need upgrades to prepare for an influx of visitors. She thinks more accommodations and at least one non-fast food restaurant will be critical.
Work just beginning
For Aboriginal groups in the region, the creation of the national park begins a long process of work.
Todd Russell is president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, which represents the Inuit in Southern Labrador.
Russell said he's excited about the decision, but that a land share agreement needs to be finalized between Aboriginal groups and Parks Canada to ensure the land is managed properly.
"We have to make sure that whatever happens in this area respects our people for all time," he said.
There is presently a "shared understanding agreement" between NanatuKavut and Parks Canada, which sets out how they will be involved in park management.
"We built a positive relationship with Parks Canada so we're quite happy. It will provide for the fact that our people will be able to use the park like they have," said Russell.
"It means fishing, hunting, trapping. It mean the people who live off the periphery of the park will continue to live on the periphery of the park. It will mean people who harvest certain types of wildlife or fish in and around the park will be able to do that."
Negotiations on the agreement have been ongoing for the past two years and without it, Parks Canada would not have been able to move ahead with its plans.
Russell said that this will also mean more economic opportunities for people in the region with increased tourism.
Mealy Mountains will be Newfoundland and Labrador's fourth national park, and Canada's 46th.
The reserve will span roughly 10,700 square kilometres.