Q& A With TCT’s Official Partner in the Yukon: Meet Mark Daniels

Who better to discuss the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) in the Yukon than the president of the Klondike Snowmobile Association (KSA)—the official partner of the TCT in the territory?

President Mark Daniels and his fellow volunteers maintain 600 kilometres of trail year round. That includes approximately 200 kilometres of the TCT. Here, Daniels chats with us about Yukon history, the TCT and cycling under the midnight sun.

TCT: A big part of what we’re doing at the TCT is working with partners at the local level to get the TCT fully connected across the country by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. The Yukon’s TCT is now officially connected, making it the third province after Newfoundland & Labrador and PEI to meet the mandate. How does that make you feel?

MD: Well, it’s quite a milestone and it gives us a sense of accomplishment. We did it section by section. Our affiliation with the TCT means a lot because it broadens our base of appeal and our visibility as stewards of a multi-use trail network. It also elevates the status of recreational trails in the Yukon.

TCT: How is the TCT most commonly used in the Yukon?

MD: Oh, we get mountain bikers, winter cyclists, ATVs, skiers, mushers, snowshoers, dog walkers—you name it. In the winter, from November to April, there’s no wheel traffic allowed. [Snowmobiles don’t have wheels.] We often partner with the cross-country ski club and split the trails, staking it down the middle for shared use. It’s all very collegial.

TCT: Tell us about the history of the TCT in the Yukon?

MD: The Copper Haul Road is the main line of the TCT for the Whitehorse area.  It was originally constructed in 1909 as a spur line of the White Pass and Yukon Route railway to service copper mines. Copper was first discovered in the area in 1897 by prospectors on their way to the Klondike Gold Rush. When this railway shut down, the railway bed was converted to an industrial gravel haul road to provide continued access to the remaining mine sites. When the last copper mine shut down, the route was once again recycled, this time into a multi-use recreational trail…. The other main section of the TCT in the area, the Dawson Overland Trail, was an old winter mail route used when the river froze and paddle boats couldn’t get supplies to Dawson City during the Gold Rush.

TCT: What’s your favourite section of the TCT in the Yukon?

MD: The Copper Haul Road, because it’s in town and so accessible. It’s the backbone for the whole trail system in this area. I taught my kids how to ski on it. You can leave your home, take a connector trail and get on the Haul Road all the way into town. So many people use it. But what we really love about the trails in the summer is being able to go cycling or canoeing at one o’clock in the morning. The midnight sun never gets dark. We don’t sleep much in the summer!

TCT: What’s involved in maintaining the trails? 

MD: The willow trees and the alders (trees and shrubs in the birch family) grow in and choke the trail off. We have to go out on ATVS and cut them back using a chainsaw or bush saw. We also remove the “deadfall” across the trail where it’s heavily forested. Another job is fixing wet and low-lying areas; we hire a contractor or partner with the city or the Yukon government to fill in mud holes. When we’re connecting existing trails, sometimes we have to widen the track or install water crossings.

In winter, we use snowmobiles to drag packers behind, to pack the snow down. The majority of the grooming is done by one retiree, Harris Cox, who puts in 6 to 12 hours at a time. My kids have cleared trails with me.

TCT: What are the challenges of maintaining the trails?

MD: We put up signage—directional and heritage—but signs go missing all the time. That’s a challenge, but our number one challenge is really our lack of core funding. We have to apply for grants on a per-project basis. Our service agreement with the TCT is a big help.

TCT: What are you looking forward to most?

There’s always a festival or something going on, like the upcoming Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival. TCT will be there on February 27 to announce the official connection of the Trail here in the Yukon! Aside from that, there’ll be people in Gold Rush costumes and cancan dancers. Folks enter competitions to carry sacks of flour on their backs, or throw chain saws and axes. The TCT is also sponsoring a canoe race down a toboggan hill! That’ll be good.