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Denali – Mount McKinley

Denali, the “High One,” is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive peak that crowns the 600-mile-long Alaska Range. Denali is also the name of an immense national park and preserve created from the former Mount McKinley National Park. The changes in names and boundaries that have occurred over the years can be confusing, as they indicate the way various parts of the park and preserve may be used today. In 1917 Mount McKinley National Park was established as a wildlife refuge. The park and the massif including North America’s highest peak were named for former senator-later President-William McKinley. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the boundary by 4 million acres and redesigned it as Denali National Park and Preserve. At 6 million acres, the park is larger than Massachusetts. It exemplifies interior Alaska’s character as one of the world’s last great frontiers for wilderness adventure. It remains largely wild and unspoiled, as the Athabascans knew it.

Denali National Park and Preserve is managed as three distinct units. Denali Wilderness, the former Mount McKinley National Park, is managed to maintain the undeveloped wilderness parkland character. Backcountry use is regulated and most usual national park regulations apply here. Denali Wilderness is closed to sport and subsistence hunting and trapping activities. Denali National Park additions, established by ANILCA in 1980 (excluding Denali Wilderness), allow customary and traditional subsistence uses by local rural residents. This recognizes the long-standing dependence on wildlife, fish, and plant materials for subsistence in rural Alaska. Denali National Preserve allows subsistence uses and also allows sport hunting, trapping, and fishing under Alaska Fish and Game regulations. There are 2 such preserve areas.

Paradoxically this expansive landscape, habitat of large caribou, moose, and grizzly bears, lies adorned with miniaturized plants. Their diminutive beauty contrasts with their large importance as food to the animals that live or migrate through here. These plants and animal life forms have long been adapted to survive northern life, but there is newness in the landscape too. The rivers are so young, and so laden with pulverized rock, called rock flour, that they can wander across their broad, flat valleys to set new channels in a matter of days. The miniaturized beauty of the tundra plants and the youthful wanderings of the rivers are striking counterpoints to the lofty, isolated, and often cloud-hidden grandeur of the Mount McKinley massif. Steven C. Kaufman.

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