MY NWT: A lifetime of Nahanni memories

Vanessa Gerlock, product development officer for Nahanni National Park Reserve, is hard pressed to pick her favourite spot in the park. "I have so many!" she exclaims. After a long pause, she finally picks the Ram Plateau as her "most recent favourite spot." She spent five days on the Ram Plateau last summer with a group, learning about the plateau's geography and how it was formed. "I got to see it firsthand by walking on it. I got a few hours in a helicopter to see it and some places that looked like ancient ruins on tops of mountains.". She also recommends Virginia Falls, Glacier Lake and Cirque of the Unclimbables. "The waterfall is amazing to have tucked away in the middle of nowhere with no development around." The park offers two-hour guided hikes of the falls and campfire programs on such themes as the medicinal use for plants in the area and traditional travelling routes of the Dene. The Cirque has jade coloured, glacier-fed lakes that are "super cool." Vanessa fell in love with the park during a class trip when she was in grade eight. Their eight-day expedition with outfitter Neil Hartling and school instructors took them from Virginia Falls to the community of Nahanni Butte. "We had one Parks Canada staff, too. I guess he was scoping out future staff," she jokes. The trip helped Vanessa, who was raised in Fort Simpson, realize that she wanted a job in ecotourism and the outdoors. "I had idolized someone else who worked for Parks," she admits. After graduating from high school in 2004, she began studying general sciences at Mount Royal College in Calgary. Then she was hired as an interpreter for the summer. "I was more than excited." She continued to work at the park every summer while pursuing post-secondary education in Alberta. In 2007, she enrolled at Medicine Hat College for a bachelor of science in ecotourism and outdoor leadership. When she graduated in December 2010, she had a job waiting for her as product development officer with Nahanni's Visitor Experience team. Next September, Vanessa and her fiancé Garry will get married against the backdrop of Virginia Falls. "As far as we know, it hasn't been done before," she says. The spot was a natural fit. "I'm from here and I've worked for the park forever. I met Garry when he was a floatplane pilot working in Nahanni." Having her wedding ceremony at the falls is a way to share it with her family and friends. "I didn't want a big fancy ceremony with music and flowers and chairs. I guess I want to have my friends and family experience the falls as well." It will be an intimate affair with less than 20 people including the pilot flying out the guests. Then it's back to Fort Simpson for the reception and a lifetime of memories.