The Pickhandle Lakes area – known as Chetthel Chi, “Stone Axe Handle Lake” in Southern Tutchone -- is a diverse complex of small lakes, pothole lakes, marshes and bogs. It is located within the Shakwak Trench, which is an important flyway for migratory birds traveling to and from Central Yukon and Alaska.
The HPA lies between the Donjek and White Rivers and is adjacent to the Alaska Highway. It measures 51 km2 in area. The north-eastern edge of the HPA is easily accessible from the highway.
The Pickhandle Lakes area is one of western North America’s most important flyways or bird migration corridors leading from South America, the Gulf of Mexico, the US Midwest, the west coast of the US and Canada into central Yukon and Alaska. The Koidern River supplies nutrients to the shallow ponds and lakes of the HPA, nourishing the plants and aquatic life which in turn attracts the migrating waterfowl for example these ponds are some of the primary nesting areas of for the trumpeter swan.
Other wildlife species that are plentiful in the HPA include moose, beaver, otter, mink, muskrats and raptors. First Nations people come here to fish species such as whitefish, arctic grayling, northern pike, and suckers and to harvest sheep, moose, caribou, beavers and muskrat. This area is also abundant in wild berries and edible plants.
In the past, the Tlingit Chilkat people travelled hundreds of kilometers from the coast to trade fish oils here for furs from the Han, Southern and Northern Tutchone and Copper people. Chetthel Chi was and still is rich in copper, which was traditionally used to make ornaments and tools. Copper was also used as currency by both First Nations.