The glacier-carved mountains, wild rivers, waterfalls, and coastline of the Akami-Uapishkᵁ-KakKasuak-Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve are Canada’s newest protected area, a title bestowed upon the region last year.
Akami-Uapishkᵁ-KakKasuak, the traditional name of the park, derives from the Innu Akami-uapishku, meaning “white mountains across,” and KakKasuak, the Labrador Inuit word for “mountain.”
Known in short as Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve, the park will be co-managed by the Innu Nation and offer free admission for the entirety of 2017. (Parks Canada is offering free admission to all of the country’s national parks, national marine conservation areas, and national historic sites this year in honor of Canada's 150th anniversary.)
Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve is Canada’s 46th national park and Newfoundland and Labrador’s fourth, set below Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve in Labrador and above Gros Morne National Park and Terra Nova National Park in Newfoundland. Park visitors can expect exceptional hiking, fishing, kayaking, whale watching, and camping, all while viewing some of the planet’s oldest fossils and witnessing an impressive array of seabirds. The park protects more than 4,000 square miles of forest and includes cultural landscapes of importance to native peoples.
“Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural heritage areas in the world,” said Jane Brewer, partnering, engagement, and communications officer at the Western Newfoundland and Labrador Field Unit of Parks Canada. “We’re committed to developing a system of national heritage places that recognizes the role of Indigenous People in Canada, and this landscape is of great cultural significance to Indigenous people in the region.”
To visit Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve is to witness a peaceful meeting of both native people and wild flora and fauna. The Innu, the Inuit, and the Métis share this extensive habitat with wolves, black bear, fox, marten, and the threatened Mealy Mountain caribou herd, as well as Atlantic salmon and trout, which both swim in the White Bear, North and English Rivers.
Whales, too, frequent the Labrador North Coast, and archaeological evidence suggests the nomadic Innu have roamed the land for nearly 7,000 years, initially traveling the interior of Labrador to hunt caribou in winter, migrating to the fish-rich coastal regions in summer.
As recently as 600 years ago, the Dorset people thrived here, and in the 17th and 18th centuries, they traveled as far south as the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. But after a wave of European migration in the 1760s, the nomadic and communal Inuit lifestyle became more connected to the emerging trade economy.
At the center of the park are the Mealy Mountains themselves, a series of glacially-rounded, bare-rock peaks that reach over 3,500 feet and descend into the coast.
“The reserve fronts the Labrador Sea, [a] stretch of unbroken sandy beaches known as the Wunderstrand,” said Brewer. “This spectacular beach is recorded in Viking sagas relating their voyages of exploration along the Atlantic Coast.”
The reserve will play an important role in wildlife conservation, too. It protects a range where the threatened Mealy Mountains caribou herd roams, including a key habitat along the coast and on offshore islands.
“Together with our indigenous partners, we are starting to explore the visitor experience opportunities that would be meaningful and appropriate for this natural and cultural heritage treasure,” said Brewer.
The park plans to be accessible year-round by both floatplane or helicopter, with late summer to early fall offering the optimal weather conditions to enjoy the best of the park. As with any new national park, programs and services will be limited initially, but over time the Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve will provide a unique way to discover a revered landscape.