I’m sitting outside on the deck of the new Carcross Commons with Olympians, national mountain bike journalists, trail breakers, greenhouse workers, locals and a Chief Executive Officer. Great coffee and chocolate croissants are ready and waiting at the Caribou Crossing Coffee shop.
Meanwhile, we’re munching on just picked carrots from the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Garden Project. The six houses around us in the Commons are covered with clan symbols – each representing a clan from Carcross-Tagish First Nation. There are three totems poles on the wooden boardwalk. To sum it up, there’s a new scene in the Yukon, worth visiting; Carcross has got a vibrant and energetic atmosphere.
As a born and raised Yukoner, I frequent Carcross mainly for potlatches. I recently visited with my very own Tlingit guide, Justin Ferbey. He has been the CEO of Carcross Tagish Management Corporation for the past four years. Ferbey is one of the people who helped make the Carcross Commons happen.
And he’s not done yet – it’s only been open since the spring.
Ferbey takes me to the carving shed in the Commons. Keith Wolfe Smarch, master Tlingit carver, leads the carving project for the First Nation. Smarch did the welcoming human, eagle and killer whale totem poles in the Commons, while mentoring young carvers. The 40-foot pole they are working on now will be completed this winter – so watch for the announcement of the totem pole raising ceremony.
“It’s going to be the centrepiece for the Commons here,” Ferbey says. It will show the story of trade, commerce and tradition.
The totem pole will show how Skookum Jim discovered gold and will feature a killer whale, his clan, Dakhl’awedi.
“Tlingit traders came with trade goods for the Tagish and the pole shows the legend of the frog and Skookum Jim,” Smarch says.
Also visiting the carving shed is former MLA Archie Lang.
“I think it’s fabulous,” Lang says. “It has changed the community. It’s good for Carcross and Yukon itself.
“Carving complements the community and the Commons bodes well for the community.”
Carcross is now a destination for mountain bikers. There are more than 65 km of biking trails across Montana Mountain with all trails starting in Carcross. Recently, Outside magazine declared the mountain as one of the world’s best destination for mountain biking. Also, the International Mountain Biking Association awarded it an Epic designation.
“Our corporation helped fund it all,” Ferbey says. “We hired all the kids… made profits and then pumped it back into community programs”.
While it’s now on the bucket list for many mountain bikers, the support wasn’t always there.
“If seven years ago we told people we were going to build the world’s best mountain bike trails, they would have said, ‘How stupid,'” Ferbey says.
I met Seamus McGrath that day in Carcross. He is a professional mountain bike racer who participated in 2008 Olympics. Based in Victoria, it was his first time in the Yukon and he and fellow Olympian Chris Sheppard made the trip to Carcross just to ride the Montana Mountain trails.
“The trails are unbelievable and world-class!” McGrath says.
Carcross resident Derek Crowe has guided many professional riders and Olympic athletes along the trails, but he says mountain bikers at any level can reap the rewards here.
“If you can hike for a day, you can bike for a day,” Crowe says.
Visitors have come from all over the world with record turnouts of 800 people per day in July, with the majority coming from cruise ships from Skagway. They shop at the seven gift stores in Carcross, where they can a variety of local art and Yukon-themed products. There are even street vendors.
For relaxation, I take a walk along the beach at Bennett Lake. This year, The Reader’s Digest named it one of the top 10 beaches in North America. While I waded in the nippy water and strolled along the beach I overheard at least three different languages being spoken.
After that, I’m hungry. Ferbey takes me to Frisky Fresh Fish, a place that serves fresh Alaskan halibut or salmon and chips. It’s delicious and popular with locals and visitors alike. You can also pick up some fresh halibut and other seafood to take home to prepare.
There are other restaurant options, too: Gold Pan Pizza, Caribou Crossing Coffee, and both the Matthew Watson Store and Montana Services offer ice cream. All of the restaurants and stores are open until approximately Sept. 27.
My day in Carcross is full of discovery. Skookum Jim found gold in the Klondike in 1896, but now the gold is in Carcross.