Our Days in Atlin, BC (Blogging From the Field #53)

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Post and photos by Kristin Timm

[This post is part of a series of real-time communication from participants in the 2012 Juneau Icefield Research Program.  The program begins June 23rd and concludes August 18th.]

Atlin, British Columbia is a small Canadian community of about 300 people. It is located in Northern BC, but you actually cannot get to it from anyplace else in BC. You get to the town by driving south from the Yukon Territory (or by hiking over the Juneau Icefield :) ). The town has a really rich and interesting history, and at one time this area had about 10,000 people. In the late 1800’s it was the site of a gold rush, and people continue to mine placer gold here today. Placer is the small pieces of gold that are essentially “sorted” out from layers of old river sediments. The placer deposits can be as small as mere specks or nuggets of several ounces, or about the size of an acorn. A local miner showed us his operation, and he actually uses plastic outdoor carpeting to “catch” the smallest flecks of gold.

Old buildings from the past century are all over the area.

Old buildings meet the eclectic and artistic side of the community to make Atlin a very unique and beautiful community.

JIRP actually owns one of these interesting old buildings. We stay at and base our operations out of the old Atlin hospital (yes, it is a kind of creepy building) while we are in town. According to a historical society plaque, the hospital closed in the 50’s because there were not enough patients. It now has a lecture room, library/office, storage, and bedrooms for the JIRP faculty and staff. The Atlin boat harbor is out in front, and we spent several clear evenings sleeping on the dock under the stars.

The old Atlin hospital is now the base of operations for JIRP, while in Atlin.

Our time in Atlin was really quite relaxing. In between laundry, showers, and naps in the grass, we worked on our talks for our big community presentation. Traditionally, JIRP students have presented their research projects to the Atlin community each year after getting off the icefield, and this year was no different. A few of us also spent most of the day baking about 200 cookies for the event. The event was advertised locally with a sign and posters, and an interview with our director, Jeff was aired that morning on CBC radio.

A local sign advertises for our evening program.

It was a really lovely evening with cookies, coffee, an overview of JIRP and the status of the icefield by our director Jeff, five minute presentations by each of the 14 JIRP students, and a closing historical perspective from Toby. I was really impressed that out of about 300 residents, about 60 people showed up for the presentations, and it was an enthusiastic audience that had great questions and stuck around afterword to meet some of the students.

Annika Ord presents about her biological research in Paradise Valley, a valley just off the icefield that is believed to have been a refuge for biological diversity during the last glacial maxiumum.

Matt Osman provides an introduction to the process of isotope fractionation during his presentation.

Zeke Brechtel came to JIRP with a set of instruments used to measure windflow over the Taku Glacier, and will later model his results.

Atlin, also known as Camp-30, was a great place to spend a few days and acclimatize to being back in “civilization” before moving on to the big city of Juneau. The people of the small town were friendly and kind, and displayed a unique enthusiasm for seeing the “glacier kids” in town again, as they do each summer. Thank you Atlin for continuing to support the Juneau Icefield Research Program, and thank you for your hospitality. Thank you also to both stores and Jenz Place for helping us overcome our post-icefield ice cream cravings!


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Larry McKay

August 20, 2012

Loved meeting the gang in Atlin. Really enjoyed touring with Cathy, Jamie and Kristin. Hope to see them in 2013. Keep up the important work on the ice fields. Wish I could be there. All the best. Larry, Gold Miner in Atlin, lovelist place on earth.