As with many northerners who were not born in the NWT, you could say that Richard Zaidan lost track of time. The acting Visitor Experience Manager for Wood Buffalo National Park arrived in Fort Smith in 2004 after working for Jasper and Prince Albert national parks. “We came here for two years – and we’re still here after 10,” he chuckles.
One of his colleagues who worked with Richard in Prince Albert had moved to Fort Smith in 2003. “He told us good things about the community and that helped us with our decision to come here,” Richard says. “It sounded like a nice place, with the Slave River, the largest national park in Canada, whooping cranes and bison.”
Not to mention snow for cross-country skiing to work in the winter. “There’s lots of consistent snow and it comes early. It also stays later, so I can start skiing in October and go right to the end of April. When the snow’s gone down south, I’m still skiing up here. It’s a big plus for a small northern community. You can park your car and walk, bike or ski to work.”
One of his favourite spots in Wood Buffalo National Park is the salt flats at Grosbeak Lake. This landscape features reddish rocks that have been eaten away by salt for some 10,000 years. He also likes the Kettle Point Group Camp at Pine Lake. “You have your own private group spot and your own private lake,” he says.
But a question visitors to the park often ask is: where are the whooping cranes? Wood Buffalo is home to the nesting area of the only remaining migratory flock of endangered whooping cranes. But seeing North America’s tallest birds was sometimes a challenge. Until recently, sightings have depended on seeing the enormous, elegant birds flying overhead. In 2015 Wood Buffalo National Park plans to launch a new experience. A limited number of visitors will be able to join Parks Canada staff for a behind-the-scenes tour of whooping cranes in their protected nesting area. This will include flightseeing tours and an opportunity to participate in science in the park during nesting surveys in the spring and fall - a welcome addition to the great visitor experiences at Wood Buffalo.