According to a Yukon Territory government survey, 2,125 people passed a Yukon River survey checkpoint on their way to Carmacks and Dawson during the summer of 1997. The largest number of people counted in one day was 73 in July. About 90 percent of the users were canoeists, said Paul Gort, research officer with the Yukon Department of Tourism. Alfan Jones, a government recreational planner, said it's his impression that the number of users has remained the same since the survey was taken.
The study showed that about 55 percent of the travelers were German or German-speaking, 23 percent Canadian, 11 percent American and 7 percent Japanese. The Yukon government makes an effort to market the territory in Europe, particularly in Germany, said Jeff Brady, publisher of the Skagway News. During the summer one jet a week arrives directly from Germany, Brady said.
The Japanese seem to be the most in awe of the experience, said Trevor Braun of Adventure Network, a business that provides guided canoe tours.
"They're impressed by the quietness and not seeing any people. They almost tiptoe around the camp fire," said Braun.
"At the airport it can be fairly emotional, especially the Japanese. You can tell it's changed their lives," said Scott McDougall of Kanoe People, a business that also leads canoe tours.
Gunshots and garbage were among the concerns expressed by residents prior to the survey, said Jones. The survey found little evidence that firearms were a problem, but it showed that 42 percent of the travelers felt garbage was a moderate to serious problem. Almost everyone surveyed said they practiced some form of leave-no-trace camping, either carrying the garbage out or burning it.
In terms of the worst problems experienced on the trip, 26 percent cited the weather, 13 percent complained about paddling Lake Laberge, and 12 percent listed mosquitoes. Nineteen percent said they had not experienced a serious problem. The survey also asked river users to rate a list of serious problems and 18 percent marked garbage as serious, 10 percent toilet paper and human waste, and 2 percent bears in camp.
The survey found that about 40 percent of the groups from Canada and the United States carried firearms. A majority of all the groups stated they carried weapons for bear protection.
Jeff Brady of Skagway, who has canoed more than 3,000 miles in the Yukon, normally carries bear spray, but occasionally takes a shotgun. Firearms are highly controlled in Canada and there are new regulations, Brady said. He recommended Alaskans thinking of taking a firearm into the Yukon contact Canadian customs prior to leaving the state. If they don't, they risk getting turned away at the boarder, he said.