POLITICS

Robert Kennedy Jr. plans river rafting trip and speech in Yukon in August

07/11/2013 03:46 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 05:12 EDT
WHITEHORSE - It’s been almost half a century since a Kennedy visited the Yukon, and next month one of his sons will take a family river rafting trip in the territory before he gives a speech on protecting natural resources.

In 1965, then-U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy joined a National Geographic team as they scaled Mt. Kennedy in tribute to his older brother, president John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated two years earlier. The senator was then assassinated himself in 1968.

In August, 59-year-old Robert Kennedy Jr., will go rafting down the Alsek River, said Neil Hartling, who will be guiding the trip.

Kennedy is “skilled enough that he could do this himself," Hartling said, who owns an adventure travel company. "He’s quite an accomplished paddler.”

After the trip, which is expected to give the family a glimpse of Mt. Kennedy, the longtime lawyer plans to share his message of environmental preservation with an audience at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Hartling said that during the Aug. 7 speech, called Our Environmental Destiny, Kennedy is set to discuss the role natural resources play in work, health and identity.

Kennedy's speech is part of a fundraiser for Waterkeeper Alliance, which he started in 1999 as a citizen advocacy organization focusing on issues affecting waterways. Globally, there are now 207 Waterkeeper programs, including nine in Canada.

Hartling said Kennedy's last rafting trip was through the Grand Canyon with Wade Davis, a Canadian anthropologist and an explorer-in-residence with National Geographic. The two made an Imax movie of their adventure.

“The Grand Canyon is the epicentre of the white water world," Hartling said. "Anybody who’s run a rapid in a boat has somewhere in the back of their mind that their ultimate experience would be to paddle and hike in the Grand Canyon.

“All of the guides down there are regarded as the gurus, and if you ask any one of them where they dream of going, they’ll tell you the Alsek River.

“So that’s why Bobby’s coming here. It’s one of the big reasons he’s coming here.”

“The Alsek is a river of superlatives,” Hartling said.

“It flows through the world’s largest non-polar ice sheets. You go through Lowell Lake, which has apartment-sized icebergs floating around on it. The Lowell glacier comes down to the lake and calves these bergs into the lake. It’s a fairy-tale setting.

“And then you hike up onto goat herd mountain and see mountain goats and look down over the Lowell glacier and Lowell Lake. And the river itself is teeming with grizzlies and tremendous wildlife viewing.”

He described one section as “the closest viewscape that we have in North America to the Himalayas, very rugged and dramatic.”

Hartling said he was looking forward to guiding a Kennedy down the Alsek River, but it’s more than that.

“He has some very unique world experiences with rivers and wilderness. I’m interested to share his knowledge and his experiences, and hear his stories."

Kennedy is the senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

He’s also been named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet” for helping Riverkeeper in its fight to restore the Hudson River. (Whitehorse Star)

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly reported that Hartling's last rafting trip was through the Grand Canyon.