Wildlife binge-watching in Northwest BC
Established in 1994, the Khutzeymateen (or K’tzima-deen) Grizzly Sanctuary protects over 50,000 hectares of habitat for some 50-60 grizzly bears. The protected area is co-managed by BC Parks, the Tsimshian First Nation and the Gits’iis Tribe.
Nestled in a sheltered bay just outside of the Sanctuary boundaries, the Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge (KWL) is the only permitted lodge in the area. Situated within a rich and vibrant coastal habitat in the traditional territory of the Coastal Tsimshian, the off-grid floating lodge sees dozens of visitors per season.
After 20 years as BC Parks Manager in the Khutzeymateen, Jamie Hahn, traded in his uniform for the opportunity to be an eco-tour entrepreneur, fulfilling a long-time dream of owning his own business while blending his intimate knowledge of the Khutz with a unique luxury accommodation experience.
Long before starting his career at BC Parks, Jamie worked as a canoe guide and was passionate about paddling people around wild places. Several years later, loading wide-eyed guests into a zodiac and touring them around a lush fjord home to a diverse range of species, he has come full circle.
Jamie first sought the help of Community Futures 16/37 in 2017 when he was looking for financing to restructure old debt. He returned to Community Futures again in 2018 to purchase the permit of his only competitor in the Khutzeymateen Inlet. After over 30 years in business, Sun Chaser Eco-tours decided to shutter the business creating a golden opportunity for KWL to increase occupancy becoming the sole accommodation provider in the region. In addition to the permit, KWL also needed funds to acquire a backup boat.
“These purchases came right when we were finally getting ahead from our initial investment. It is a very capital-intensive business and an expensive operation to run.
“These purchases came right when we were finally getting ahead from our initial investment. It is a very capital-intensive business and an expensive operation to run. Without Community Futures 16/37, these assets would have been difficult to finance through regular banks,” Jamie explains.
Five years into this business, Jamie reflects on what it was like to start-up on a tight budget. He remembers the long, hard days as he fulfilled the roles of General Contractor on lodge construction projects as well as Operations Manager, booking clients, guiding tours and running errands. Like most business owners, one of the biggest challenges Jamie faced was managing cash flow and avoiding overspending to meet rapid growth. He credits his ability to invest in a strong team and a healthy workplace culture as the keys to success. Megan Baker, Lodge Manager, tells me that when she has a weekend off, she can’t wait to get home to Terrace, and when the weekend is over, she can’t wait to get home to the Khutz. That kind of passion and dedication is what makes a business thrive. Having Megan at the helm of the day to day operations, allows Jamie to take the odd day off to recharge and refocus.
Supporting the local economy is important to Jamie and he is committed to employing residents from the nearby community of Lax Kw’alaams. He has hired a guide, who used to work as a Khutzeymateen Ranger as well as one lodge assistant.
In its short history, Khutz Lodge has received many accolades from several well-known Canadian publications, and it’s easy to see why. An off-grid floating lodge, accessible only by floatplane, surrounded by a magical coastal rainforest offering all of the comforts of home and more: gourmet meals prepared by an in-house chef, locally brewed beer, locally roasted coffee, lodge-grown herbs, access to kayaks & paddle boards, a sauna, seven luxurious guest rooms, and guided zodiac tours where visitors have the opportunity to get up close (but not too close) and personal with magnificent wildlife.
As Captain of the guided tour, not only is Jamie incredibly adept at maneuvering a zodiac through swift-moving tidal waters, but he excels at captivating guests with stories about the bears. Having spent two decades in the area, he has a lot to say about the busy lives of the Khutz Grizz and how their activities impact and sustain an entire ecosystem around them.
Jamie and his team give names to all of the Grizzlies they observe. Some bears have starring roles as they return to the shoreline every spring to feed on protein-dense sedge grass. Guests learn about the distinct habits of each of the bears. Some are master clam-diggers, some prefer to stick to grazing. Mating rituals are complex, and no matter how hard a dominant male tries to impress a sow, she makes up her own mind at the end of the day, and SPOILER ALERT, she doesn’t always choose the dominant male. If guests leave the lodge before they find out who’s courting who or which bears will return from hibernation with adorable cubs, they can follow KWL on Facebook or Instagram to see how the drama unfolds.
All of this story-telling isn’t just great experiential marketing for the lodge. The Khutz team uses their observations to prepare an annual report to contribute to a catalogue and database of sightings and behaviours. The end goal is to build a long-term view of the health of the bear population. As a conservationist, Jamie emphasizes that the well-being of these animals come first. The Khutz staff are very careful to ensure they don’t become lead or even supporting characters in the story. Bears are observed in strict adherence to the guidelines set out in the Bear Viewing Best Practices manual developed by BC Parks staff and the Coast Tsimshian First Nation.
We are part of their lives for a moment without disturbing them.
This venture is a labour of love, and Jamie has poured a lot of passion and hard work into its success. I asked Jamie what the single most rewarding thing is about this business: “Seeing the look of amazement in a guest’s eyes when we sit quietly with the bears. We are part of their lives for a moment without disturbing them.”
When asked what he hopes guests take away from their experience at the Khutz Lodge, Jamie says, ” We hope guests go away with a better understanding of how an intact coastal watershed looks and functions. After spending 3 days in the bears’ world, we hope guests can see how intelligent bears are and how bears and people can coexist.”
Quick Biz Facts:
Owner: Jamie Hahn
Location: 45 km NE of Prince Rupert
Open: May – September
The floating lodge offers an opportunity to enjoy all the comforts of home with plenty of room to stretch out and take in the awe-inspiring wilderness.Visit khutzlodge.com