Denali

In November, Fairbanks saw 10 inches more snow than is typical. While this made the roads a little more hellish, the snowfall comes with a perk: at Denali National Park and Preserve, the southern portions of the 1980 park additions have been opened up for snowmachining.

On Nov. 28, park management determined that there is adequate snow cover for the use of snowmachines for traditional activities in areas of the 1980 park additions that are south of the crest of the Alaska Range. 

 

A little history

The aforementioned additions were part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which will see its 40th anniversary this time next year. The act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on Dec. 2, 1980, provided protection for over 157 million acres and remains the largest expansion of protected lands ever executed. The goal of the act was to protect the state’s natural resources for both general public interest and enjoyment and for subsistence use by Alaska Natives.

Not only did the act double the size of the whole National Park system, it created the majority of national park land in Alaska. The numerous conservation areas it either created or expanded in Alaska include Glacier Bay National Park, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. For Denali, the act saw total acreage grow to a little over 6 million acres.

 

Areas for snowmachining

According to G.W. Hitchcock, public affairs officer for Denali National Park and Preserve, there is roughly 2.1 million acres of wilderness in the park where snowmachining is prohibited. This leaves a little under 4 million acres to explore. The area that just opened to snowmachiners is the southwest section of the preserve, up to the North Fork of the Eldridge Glacier. A map that shows where snowmachining is allowed can be accessed here: bit.ly/2Pg6pXG.

In an email, Hitchcock explained that different sections of the park offer different topological experiences. The northern portion of the park offers visitors gently rolling tundra, while the southern portions offer a “more dramatic landscape” with ridges and glacier-filled canyons.

“A majority of the access to Denali’s southern snowmachine area is along Petersville Road and through Denali State Park, so be sure to take a look at what they have to offer and their rules and regulations. There are several opportunities to see Denali and the Alaska Range from this side,” Hitchcock wrote. “Access to the northern portion of the park is via the Stampede Trail. We don’t groom trails for snowmachines or have designated routes — much like hiking in the park, visitors have a chance for self-reliance and self-discovery.”

Due to the passage of ANILCA, traditional subsistence activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing are allowed in these areas, though not everyone is eligible to engage in the practices.

According to the park website, you can only take part in subsistence activities if you are a local rural resident living in one of Denali’s designated subsistence resident communities — Cantwell, Lake Minchumina, Nikolai and Telida — or have a special subsistence use permit issued by the superintendent. You can also apply for a special subsistence use permit if you have a personal or family history of using these areas for subsistence purposes.

Hitchcock noted that those who intend to snowmachine around the park should make sure they’re properly prepared.

“Winter is an excellent time to come see a different side of the park, but we encourage snowmachiners to come prepared. There is no cell service in much of the park, so visitors should check the weather before they leave, have a travel plan in place and log it with park staff or someone else, and always have proper clothing and safety equipment,” he said.

For more information on snowmachining, you can visit the state Department of Transportation website here: bit.ly/2s4BghF.

Park staff remind snowmachiners that all lands within the former Mount McKinley National Park on both the north and south sides of the Alaska Range are closed to all snowmachine use by federal regulation.

The Murie Science and Learning Center serves as the winter visitor center and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for visitor information and backcountry permits. Park information is available on the web at bit.ly/2RpoPIb or by calling 907-683-9532.

Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.