The community of Old Crow, Yukon, is getting ready to haul freight and supplies over an old exploration cat trail.
The trail was made by a Cat bulldozer in the 1950s and used by oil exploration companies to move equipment in the bush.
In early February, five snowcats hauling freight trailers will travel the 260-kilometre trail from Eagle Plains, Yukon, to Old Crow.
"It's extremely complex. It's almost like some kind of biblical migration to know what it's about," said Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwich'in First Nation.
He said everything from lumber supplies, to recreational vehicles, to groceries, will be loaded into sea containers and then onto 12-metre long steel trailers.
This is the second winter the First Nation-owned Old Crow Development Corporation will be delivering bulky freight to the community.
The development company partnered with Wandering Star JV Transportation Service out of Whitehorse to offer the service.
"A large part of their payloads are again the building materials, as we can greatly reduce the costs from transporting from air," said Tizya-Tramm.
A more cost-effective option
Old Crow is a fly-in community and the most northerly community in Yukon. Most supplies to Old Crow come by local airline Air North.
But since last year, this new, more cost-effective option has also been available in the winter.
The Old Crow Development Corporation charges a dollar per pound of freight it moves from Eagle Plains to Old Crow.
Tizya-Tramm says now residents can bring big-ticket items and bulky items that would take up a lot of space on an airplane.
"There is even incredible amounts of dog food brought up for the dog teams. I think one order was like 60 bags. It's like the community shops at Costco," said Tizya-Tramm.
Yudi Mercredi is a Vuntut Gwich'in citizen and journeyman welder.
For the last two months, Mercredi and his small crew have been building four 12-metre steel trailers.
He says it's rewarding work.
"Oh, I mean it's very important for the community, it's good for the wintertime bringing goods to the community when the Hawker can't," said Mercredi.
"I mean, we are just here to help bring the goods to the community so Old Crow can thrive on, and continue having goods for buildings and materials for other projects and stuff."
The many trips needed to get freight to Old Crow are hard on the equipment, especially the trailers, because they are carrying all the weight.
Mercredi says they'll move about 180,000 kilograms of freight: everything from lumber supplies and fuel to prefab buildings.
It all will be loaded into sea containers and then onto the 12-metre steel trailers with skis.
"There are hills rolling hills up and down. There is also tundra as well, there are many lakes that we have to pass and go around and banks that we have to climb, so you have to build it quite strong," said Mercredi.
Busy summer construction season coming
The Yukon government put in an ice road in 2014. It allowed semi-trucks with trailers to make the journey. But the road is not cheap to construct. In December 2021, the Yukon government plans to build a winter road in order to truck supplies for a new health centre.
The Yukon Housing Corporation is also planning new housing for health centre staff.
Geordon Clark, general manager of the Old Crow Development Corporation, said there will be a lot of construction in Old Crow this summer.
'We're taking in prebuilt modular units, we got a restaurant that is five modules [and] we got two motel units," said Clark.
He said community members will also be shipping personal items, like brand new snow machines, four-wheelers and food.