Ptarmigan Tracks

The Newsletter of Camp Denali,
North Face Lodge & Parkside Guest House

Online Version 2019

Park Planning


Kantishna Planning Slows Due to Road Maintenance Challenges

We contacted many of you this fall regarding the public comment period on the Kantishna and Wonder Lake Area Plan, a National Park Service (NPS) planning document that proposed a broad array of trails and infrastructural changes for our backyard. The NPS received 388 comments, mostly expressing concern about the scale of infrastructural change. We felt the proposals tipped the scales in favor of recreation at the expense of wildlife, habitat protection and long-held management direction for the area. Next steps by park planners are to publish a summary of public comments, perhaps as early as spring 2020. However, planners have had to shift their focus towards contingency planning for the Denali Park Road.

During their 25-year tenure, Camp Denali founders, Woody, Ginny and Celia, dealt with their fair share of travel interruptions. In 1967, Ginny wrote, "in our sixteen years of operation, we have coped successfully with just about every hazard nature could throw at us - mudslides, washed-out bridges, snowdrifts, and snow acalanches." Gumption, can-do attitudes, and a relationship with the Park Service based in mutual respect always seemed to get them through.

Aside from temporary obstacles, never in Camp Denali's history has there been a threat that the NPS road crew would no longer be able to maintain the road. But a rapidly warming climate is changing that reality. Climate change is the culprit at "Pretty Rocks" on Polychrome Pass, where the thawing of ice-rich permafrost is causing a section of the road to slowly slide downhill. Areas of permafrost, substrate frozen for thousands of years, are reaching critical temperature thresholds throughout the far north. Resulting road maintenance issues along the Denali Park Road can no longer be addressed with limited funding and a reactive approach.

For 2020, the NPS is demonstrating its commitment to doing everything within its power to maintain the road out to Kantishna, including beginning to plow the road two months earlier than usual and contracting engineering expertise and equipment for repairs at Pretty Rocks. Accordingly, we are planning for business as usual.

Long-term solutions to maintaining road access are still taking shape. Options range from large-scale earth work to maintain the current alignment, to a bridge spanning the slump, to re-routing the road entirely. Among re-route scenarios is a five-mile road in the valley below the Polychrome cliffs. Building new road through designated Wilderness would require an act of Congress in addition to funding, environmental compliance and organizational capacity. We will be advocating for an expedited-but-thorough approach for this solution should it prove the best long-term option. If there is need for public comment at any stage, you can expect to hear from us!

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