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Harper eyes national park expansion in the North

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen take in the scenery as they stand on the ground where a new national park will be located in Moose Pond, North West Territories, August 21, 2012.

POOL/REUTERS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper turns his eyes today from the mineral riches of the North to its recreational riches.

On the second full day of his annual northern tour, he visited the site of a new national park reserve in Norman Wells, a small community about 680 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife.

Negotiations to create the NDaDats'ihch'oh reserve have been underway for years and involved the federal government working with local first nations groups to make the deal happen.

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"The creation of this new national park reserve will further protect the rich natural wonders and cultural heritage of Canada's sovereign North," Mr. Harper said in a statement.

"It will also generate employment for those living in the Northwest Territories, who will contribute to the stewardship and conservation of the park reserve's lands and waters and educate visitors on the natural history and culture of the region."

The new park reserve covers about 4,850 square kilometres and the mountain from which it takes its name is of spiritual significance to the Sahtu Dene and Metis.

Mr. Harper and his wife Laureen took a 90-minute float plane ride to the new park area. On arrival, they strode through willows to reach a tiny outcropping overlooking Moose Ponds. When everyone fell still, not a single sound could be heard over the pond, which is a popular starting point for canoe trips and hunting expeditions.

"It's a spectacular place for a new national park," Mr. Harper said.

Mr. Harper noted to a Parks Canada employee that he's aware locals are sometimes leery of parks because of their potential impact on economic opportunities.

Initial proposals for the park reserve suggested the newly protected area would actually be much larger, with data on Parks Canada's website saying about 7,600 square kilometres were under consideration.

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Within the park reserves, habitat for mountain woodland caribou, grizzly bears, Dall's sheep, mountain goats and Trumpeter swans will be preserved meaning hunting will be banned.

While the Conservatives consider themselves champions of Canada's national parks, the agency in charge of running them was hit hard in the recent federal budget.

Parks Canada has since announced the closure of services at many parks, including in the North, and locals are concerned about the implications for tourism.

But at a stop at a mine in Yukon on Tuesday, Mr. Harper wouldn't commit to reversing the cuts.

"That is re-examined on an ongoing basis depending on public demand," he said.

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