Private Vehicle Access and Guided Vehicle Tours on the Denali Park Road in 2020
Denali National Park and Preserve (Denali) will be implementing a opportunity for private vehicles to access usually restricted portions of the Denali Park Road (Park Road) and also allow for guided vehicle tours (GVT's) during the 2020 summer season. These activities are in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The current proposal would allow the general public to take their personal vehicles to the Eielson Visitor Center (near milepost 66) for five weekends during the summer of 2020 and also allow GVT's to operate on the restricted portion of the Park Road from July 1st through September 17th (except on the 5 weekends when the public would be allowed to take their personal vehicles on the road).
These activities will temporarily change how the public accesses the Mount McKinley Park Road Historic District (Park Road); for the past 48 years the public has accessed the Park Road during the summer months through a required shuttle bus system.This undertaking is being proposed to allow more visitors to experience DENA at a time when the shuttle bus system is limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements.
The general public would be allowed to apply for permits (up to 70 per day) to drive their personal vehicles on the following dates: July 10-12, July 24-26, August 7-9, August 21-23, and September 4-7; shuttle buses would be operating at the same time. The GVT's would consist of a caravan of the public driving 1-2 GVT owned vehicles with a Tour Guide driving an additional lead vehicle; shuttle buses would be operating at the same time as the GVT's. The GVT's would run as far as the Eielson Visitor Center, and up to three GVT's could take place each day.
The Park Road is currently being reviewed by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) for listing on the NRHP. It is a Historic District (HD) and a Cultural Landscape (CL) that is nationally significant in part due to its shuttle bus system. The Park Road is eligible for the NRHP on the national level under Criterion A, as in 1972, Mount McKinley National Park became one of the first parks, after Yosemite, to establish a shuttle-bus system for park visitors. The park has the longest-running required, and most extensive, shuttle-bus system in the NPS. The period of significance for the Park Road is from 1922-1972 and includes the significant date of 1972 when the NPS implemented the shuttle-bus system beyond Mile 15.
The 1972 shuttle bus decision was based on fears of overcrowding, safety, and resource concerns; specifically, those of park wildlife habituation. In 1971, Cathy Brickey, a seasonal ranger-naturalist wrote an op-ed to the Fairbanks Daily News Miner and described some of the ecological destruction she observed from careless tourists. Numerous trees were cut down by visitors at Wonder Lake and disturbing amounts of litter were discharged from vehicles traveling the road. Her biggest concern was the feeding of wildlife, and she noted that the most imminent ecological damage would come from the feeding of animals who may happen to wander alongside the road. The bus system curbs these destructive behaviors and lessens resource damage which in turns helps maintain the integrity of the Park Road.
This proposed undertaking is a fundamental shift in how visitors experience the Park Road. This undertaking will change the DENA shuttle bus system from "required" to "optional". However, it is a temporary shift meant to provide access to the park at a time when social distancing requirements make shuttle bus travel exceedingly difficult and when the concessionaire who runs the bus system will be offering a greatly reduced number of buses and options. This is a temporary change, and this undertaking is only being considered under the current pandemic restrictions and for the summer of 2020. If DENA were to implement an optional bus system beyond the current tourist season the NHPA determination would have to be reassessed.
Given the temporary nature of the undertaking, as designed the undertaking should not adversely affect the Park Road or any other historic properties. We have reached a National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106, determination of "No Historic Properties Adversely Effected" (36 CFR Part 800.5(3) (b)). This undertaking will allow continued public access of the Park Road at a time when it would be otherwise severely restricted due to the small number of busses that will likely run on the Park Road during the summer of 2020.
Phoebe Gilbert 907-683-9540
The following project requires review and consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and is being posted here for public comment on the NHPA finding.