When the Tłı̨chǫ Highway opens later this month, residents of Whatì, N.W.T. will have a year-round road connection to the rest of the territory.
It also means nature-lovers will be able to easily visit Whatì Falls, a scenic summer picnic spot where community members go for picnics with family and friends on the weekend.
"It's really beautiful," said Joseph Moosenose, a former Whatì community councillor. "It's two falls with an island in the middle. By the end of September, when the colour changes on the leaves, does it ever look beautiful."
Until now, Whatì Falls was only reachable via a local access road from the community. Moosenose was on the settlement council back in the 1980s that pushed for that access road. "We built a road out there," he said. "We got money from the government, a little bit and a little bit every year. We just pushed and found a way to finish it."
Now, the community of Whatì and the Tłı̨chǫ Government are gearing up for an influx of outside visitors. Much of the immediate work at the site will centre on safety, including a fence and rock barrier around a steep cliff near a popular viewpoint, Moosenose said. A trailer may also be installed to monitor how many people are visiting the site.
Mark Poskitt, a land-use planner with the Tłı̨chǫ Government, said there are also planned upgrades to the access road, as well as a day-use area.
"We're wanting to be prepared and sort of start conversations earlier about what needs to be done to make sure people are not just going there willy nilly and leaving a mess and then there's no facilities for them," he said.
But that might be just the start.
Whatì Falls: A future park?
Whatì Falls, also known as La Martre Falls, is located outside the community government's boundary and falls within the Tłı̨chǫ Government's jurisdiction. As construction began on the highway, the Tłı̨chǫ Government began to ask Whatì residents, through surveys and workshops, for their suggestions for Whatì Falls.
Poskitt said the idea of a campground has come up, but those talks are still in the early stages and some elders cautioned against rushing ahead with the proposal.
"There's a lot of questions still to answer with the campground," he said. "It's probably going to still need a bit more work before we make any firm commitments to that. And it's going to take a bit more engagement and some deciding where it will be, if it's going to be at all, or how it might be operated."
Poskitt did note that such a campground would be a Tłı̨chǫ-led project, and not considered a territorial campground.
"It's the first kind of park on this scale, where there's an established day-use area and considerations for campgrounds," he said. "That hasn't happened before anywhere in Tłı̨chǫ territory."
The 97-kilometre Tłı̨chǫ Highway is scheduled to open to the public on November 30.