Denali National Park and Preserve

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published July 2003


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Visible from 150 miles away on a clear day, Mount McKinley rises from the Alaska Range in Denali National Park and Preserve to astound the eye. Protected within the park's boundaries, the mountain dominates the landscape of this magnificent park. Denali is a premier refuge for native wildlife species in a natural setting rarely found in any protected area of the country.

The six-million-acre park protects about 160 bird species and 38 mammal species, including wolves, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and grizzly bears. Denali's remoteness, coupled with strict mandates to protect the park's wildlife habitat and large-scale functioning ecosystems, have helped this special place remain much as it has for millennia. Visitors are attracted and inspired by the massive scale of the mountains, sweeping natural landscapes, and wildlife. Scientists value the number of large predators, such as grizzlies and wolves, as well as the number of prey species that move unhampered across the landscape.

Park staff manage Denali with a keen appreciation of its wilderness value, and strict management of motorized access is a key factor. Most visitors experience Denali through facilities at the park's periphery and through a single, tightly controlled road aboard the park's innovative shuttle system. Additional access, primarily allowed by the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) under definitions of traditional and subsistence use, is not actively managed and needs to be reviewed.

Although the park is best known for its wildlife and wilderness, Denali also contains a wealth of historic and cultural treasures. From prehistoric archaeological sites to 19th century cabins and mining artifacts, the park tells a compelling story about centuries of human occupation and the search for gold. Even though Denali has been somewhat protected by its remoteness and size, the park faces substantial shortfalls in operational funding and in personnel that make it difficult to meet coming challenges. Although the park has built new visitor and Science and Research centers and congressional funding for the Natural Resource Challenge has helped augment natural resource programs, money is inadequate for operations and supporting staff in science, education, and outreach. The park also lacks money for a full-time archaeologist, a full-time curator or archivist, and interpretive positions to serve park visitors.

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