Denali National Park officials are considering the possibility of plowing the park road an additional nine miles in winter, to the Mountain Vista Rest Area, to give visitors a bit more access.
Three alternatives that examine this possibility are included in an environmental assessment being circulated by the park for public comment.
Goals of each of the three action alternatives include increasing the range of recreational opportunities available to winter visitors and providing winter visitors opportunities to potentially view Mt. McKinley from within the park.
The purpose of this plan is to maintain the opportunities for physically active and/or backcountry winter recreationalists while at the same time allowing more visitors in vehicles access to an additional nine miles of the Park Road. This plan is necessary to address the needs of visitors to the park in winter when opportunities for them may be limited due to the cold temperatures and reduced daylight. They may visit the kennels; however, the dogs are frequently gone on patrols.
Outdoor recreational opportunities such as hiking and snowshoeing are available but require visitors to be prepared for extreme temperatures. The park does get a number of visitors, predominantly from the local area, who cross country ski, skijor, snowshoe, or dog mush into the park. The Park Road is closed in the fall when it becomes snowed in (usually between mid-October and mid-November) and then re-opened beginning around April 1. Local governments and businesses have expressed an interest in bringing visitors to the park during the winter months for mountain viewing
Both passenger and commercial vehicles (such as bus tours) would be allowed to travel this portion of the Denali Park Road during periods when park concession transportation is not available.
The Park Service has developed a range of three action alternatives and one no action alternative for consideration:
* Alternative 1 – No Action – No plowing beyond Park Headquarters (Mile 3).
During the winter months snow on one lane of the Park Road would be packed from Mile 3 to Mile 7 to mitigate the buildup of overflow ice on the road. This section of the road would continue to be a designated backcountry hiker area during winter months.
* Alternative 2 – Plow road for full winter season.
The NPS would keep the Denali Park Road open to the Mountain Vista Rest Area year-round. The Spring Trail would be improved to provide safer access, which would include rerouting up to 1,000 feet of the trail. Some minor improvements to the rest area would also be necessary. The section of road between Mile 3 to Mile 12 would no longer be part of the winter backcountry hiker area as designated in the Backcountry Management Plan. Implementation of this alternative may include a phased approach with a trial period as outlined in Alternative 4, followed by opening the road in mid-January as outlined in Alternative 3 prior to opening the road for the entire winter in the future.
* Alternative 3 – Plow road for partial winter season beginning mid-January
The NPS would open the Park Road for vehicle use in mid-January to the Mountain Vista Rest Area. Components of this alternative include minor work on the Spring Trail and minimal improvements to the rest area. The road from Mile 3 to Mile 12 would not be a winter backcountry hiker area during these months. Implementation of this alternative may include a phased approach with a trial period as outlined in Alternative 4.
* Alternative 4 – Plow road on a trial basis for 3-5 years beginning mid-February (NPS preferred)
The NPS would open the Park Road to the Mountain Vista Rest Area for vehicle use in mid-February for a three – five year trial period. No improvements to the Spring Trail or rest area are included in this alternative.
The Park Service has published a draft EA entitled “Winter Road Plowing.” It is available online at at the NPS planning website. The draft EA analyzes the impacts of the proposed alternatives and the no action alternative.
Comments on the EA may be submitted through Saturday, March 16, preferably via the website linked to above. Comments may also be faxed to (907) 683-9612, or mailed to the address below:
Denali National Park and Preserve
ATTN: Winter Road Plowing EA
P.O. Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755
For questions about the EA, please contact Paula Homan, Project Planning Lead, at 907- 683-6223 or [email protected].