Increased use prompts National Park Service to plan for Denali's future

Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Officials are rethinking the future of Alaska's best-known national park. The National Park Service is studying five new management options for Denali National Park and Preserve.

Among other things, the Park Service is trying to decide whether to set an annual limit on the number of climbers trying to scale Mount McKinley. Park managers also are looking at whether it's time to limit and redirect flightseeing operations at Denali, whether the number of backcountry hikers should be controlled and how snowmachine use should be managed.

They also are asking whether it's time to define quietness and solitude as park resources that should be protected.

Officials said they're concerned that a continuing escalation in the number of users and their concentrations in certain areas might spoil the wilderness experience for park visitors.

The number of climbers on Mount McKinley has doubled over the past 15 years. Backcountry use by hikers and snowmachiners has more than tripled.

Flightseeing has more than quadrupled.

''People expect to come to Alaska and see wilderness,'' said Ralph Tingey, associate regional director for operations for the National Park Service. ''We want to make sure they get that. And we want to make sure we don't damage the resource.''

The National Park Service is responding by rewriting Denali's general management plan -- amending the 1986 document to reflect today's demands and values.

After holding a number of open houses to discuss the issue, park officials drafted five alternatives for how to manage backcountry use in the park. They are seeking public comment by March 15 and expect to pick a preferred alternative and conduct an Environmental Impact Study by fall.

The new management plan is expected to be in place by this time next year.

It will deal primarily with the more remote areas of the park. The core area, known as the old park and served by road from the Parks Highway to Wonder Lake, already is under tight management.

Charlie Sassara, a local climber and board member of the American Alpine Club, sat through a Park Service presentation on the proposals in Anchorage last week.

He said the club will study the proposals and take a position. He is skeptical, however, about the idea of limiting the number of climbers.

If the problem is sanitation and garbage, then it might make more sense to require climbers to take care of their own waste, Sassara said.

''Mountain climbing is inherently concentrated in areas because you are going for a peak, so the number of climbers in the area isn't that big of an issue,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Doug Geeting, owner of Doug Geeting Air Service at Talkeetna, said he hasn't had a chance to study the different proposals. He said, though, he wasn't sure any changes need to be made for flightseeing.

''That's basically where my vote goes,'' Geeting said. ''If it ain't broke, don't fix it.''

The air services at Talkeetna have been self-policed and resolve whatever problems or safety issues that arise, he said.

''The only concern I have is that once they get started, there will continually be more regulations,'' he said.


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