Tuktoyaktuk mayor says little in place for tourists travelling new highway

The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway appears to be encouraging tourist travel in the region, but little is in place to accommodate tourists once they arrive, according to the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk.

Mervin Gruben was hoping to have an RV park set up before the tourism season began

Diane Brochu and and her mother Treva in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. It was the trip of a lifetime for them. The hamlet's mayor wants to see more facilities in place for travelers taking advantage of the new Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

With both the ferry and the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway open, the first tourists of summer have made it to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

The government's hope that the $300 million highway would increase tourism in the region appears on track, but little has been done to prepare facilities for travellers once they arrive.

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Mervin Gruben hoped there would be an RV park by now.

"We have all of these tourists coming into to Tuk right now and there really is no place for them to stay," Gruben said.

"Already we are kind of getting a bad name because they come here and there [are] no accommodations for them."

Although the road is under a weight limit restriction of 5,000 kg after it was shut down for nearly three weeks in May, Gruben says there are still RVs and campers rolling in. Some are overweight.

"There is nobody watching the limit. There are RVs coming steady on the road."

The N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure was not immediately available to comment on whether accommodations were in place for RVers to travel the road while the restriction is in place.

Not many options

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Mervin Gruben says more has to be done to accommodate travellers once they arrive in the hamlet. (Submitted by Mervin Gruben)

Regardless of temporary road restrictions, there are not many options for travellers once they arrive in Tuktoyaktuk, with camper or without.

For those who want to spend the night under a roof, Gruben said there are about four different bed and breakfasts to choose from.

He said he's seen some people camping near the baseball field, and there have been some RVs parked at "the point," an area in the north end of the hamlet.

As more tourists come into the hamlet, there will be more space needed to welcome them. He's hoping for more help from the government.

He says there are some vacant government parking lots the hamlet was hoping to use, but was told by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment that the hamlet would have to pay.

"I think one was $2,100 a month," Gruben said. "They should be giving it to us to use at our discretion. It's frustrating."

He says he's been lobbying government officials and MLAs to see something done, and quickly.

Once-in-a-lifetime experience

RVers at "the point" in Tuktoyaktuk. There are no formal facilities for RV camping in the hamlet yet. (Submitted by Mervin Gruben)

Diane Brochu and her 78-year-old mother, Treva, travelled to Tuktoyaktuk for Inuvialuit Day in their camper.

They have driven to the ends of all the major highways in the N.W.T. Brochu says this "is a road we haven't been on when we were there, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for mom."

Brochu says when they were in the hamlet, they had a fairly easy time finding a spot at the point, but there weren't many RVs there at the time.

The area is set up as a kind of public park and picnic area, but it's serving as a temporary RV park.

"They have an area set out for parking and camping. There's tables and barbecue pits. It was really great and the view from there is perfect because you are right on the edge of the sea."

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment says it understands there is a need for more space, and it's working on it.

"We have helped ... identify some potential sites where something could be set up. Hopefully we will be able to at least have a good plan in place in the next couple of weeks," said Don Craik, regional superintendent for the Beaufort Delta region.

He said department policy requires a lease before any government land can be used, and the department is working to sort that out. But leasing land for RVers could mean fees for use.

"Revenue generated from the site will probably cover that lease," Craik said.

Craik says the space would be basic overnight parking, but the hamlet has picnic tables and portable toilets that were provided a couple of years ago. He added that the hamlet may have missed an opportunity to have an RV park in place for tourists this year.

He said that a couple years ago, an RV park for the hamlet was approved to be developed through a partnership with the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, but "they [the hamlet] decided they didn't want it, so we reprofiled those dollars to get some event equipment for them."

Gruben was not on hamlet council at the time. He remains hopeful there can eventually be a proper campground in Tuktoyaktuk.

"In the near future I'm hoping that we can build a real campground with everything in it — showers, washrooms, picnic tables and fireplaces. That would be the main goal."