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Alaska’s Denali National Park plans to expand winter access

 The Beauty of Denali National Park / Photo courtesy by Kelly Leavitt
The Beauty of Denali National Park / Photo courtesy by Kelly Leavitt (KTUU)
Published: Aug. 21, 2020 at 6:49 PM AKDT
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(AP) - Denali National Park and Preserve plans to expand winter and off-season access to accommodate what officials said are rising numbers of people seeking more wintry conditions.

The changes over time may include additional skiing, dog mushing and guiding opportunities from September to May, The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

Officials also plan to provide more roadside parking and vehicle access deeper inside the park in south-central Alaska, which was visited by nearly 595,000 people in 2018.

There is no clear timeline yet for the changes. The park this summer has temporarily allowed visitors to drive normally restricted areas of the road.

The number of winter visitors increased by 400% in recent years, although they still only make up 2% of the park’s total visitation, officials said.

Park traffic has also diversified with an increase in tour groups, international visitors and college students opting for a colder spring break.

The increase in off-season visitors in the past few years has occurred statewide, said Jennifer Johnston, a Denali outdoor recreation planner.

“Fairbanks is a real hotspot for that, and we get a lot of spillover,” Johnston said.

Nancy Bale of the Denali Citizens Council, a park watchdog group, said the new plan could allow traffic that compromises the wilderness assets that make Denali unique.

Bale expressed concerns about possible negative effects on wolf packs, caribou and bears, and noted that road plowing also limits opportunities to ski.

“It’s not so much that anything bad is going to happen immediately,” Bale said. “It’s just this swings the door open.”

The National Park Service analyzed the effect of the proposed changes on wildlife, wilderness resources and park noise and found the potential impact to be “pretty small,” Johnston said.

The only major change expected is more private vehicle travel 9 miles (14 kilometers) deeper into the park between mid-February and mid-April, she said.

“If we were to get reports of visitors harassing wildlife or wildlife mortality or other issues, it’s certainly something that we might want to manage differently,” Johnston said.

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