Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

The Denali Education Center is expanding by merging with the Northern Susitna Institute in Talkeetna.

Denali Education Center is a longtime nonprofit educational partner of Denali National Park. Located just outside the park, off Mile 231 Parks Highway, it provides visitors and local residents with programs that help connect them to Denali and the natural world. The Northern Susitna Institute in Talkeetna did similar work in Talkeetna.

“We believe that uniting during a time of social distancing is a sign for brighter days ahead for our communities and people who visit Denali,” said Jodi Rodwell, executive director of the Denali Education Center. “Through this merger of ideas and resources, our expanded organization will better serve the gateway communities of Denali National Park and Preserve.”

Both nonprofits will now operate under the Denali Education Center umbrella with two campuses — the Denali campus and the Talkeetna campus.

“While the name Northern Susitna Institute will cease to exist, its values and history of service will continue through DEC,” said Rodwell.

The merger is a perfect fit for two like-minded organizations, she said, adding, “This merger is going to make the communities feel a lot closer, for sure. We are really excited about it.”

The turnoff to Talkeetna from the Parks Highway is about 70 miles south of the main entrance to Denali National Park at Mile 237 Parks Highway. The park presence is strong in Talkeetna, which is home to a National Park Service ranger station. Talkeetna is also the jumping off point for climbers headed to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, and other peaks in the Alaska Range.

“It’s such good synergy,” Rodwell said.

Denali Education Center will now take over Northern Susitna Institute’s Talkeetna property, which includes a building and three acres of land.

Retiring board president Jim Graupmann said the Northern Susitna Institute worked diligently to find a partner that could continue to serve the communities of the northern Susitna Valley.

“We have found that partner in the Denali Education Center,” he said. “We have looked closely at their mission statement and their values and we trust that they will continue serving our communities in a similar but more financially secure, fashion.”

He thanked past supporters and encouraged them to continue that support for the Denali Education Center.

“We are thrilled for this merger,” Rodwell said. “We have always felt as though the Talkeetna community is an extension of Denali, a sister gateway community to the park.”

She expects this will strengthen DEC’s partnership with Denali National Park and allow programs to flourish in the Talkeetna community.

“We have a lot to learn about Talkeetna and the northern Susitna Valley and we can’t wait to dive in,” she said.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, programs remain suspended for this season at both places.

“We have to do some strategic planning this summer with the board,” Rodwell said. There are also plans now to include Talkeetna residents on the board.

“Our involvement there will be super incremental,” she said. “I could see next spring when we open up the building, holding a couple programs. It will be bare bones youth programming next summer.”

Currently, she expects staff will commute between Denali and Talkeetna, but details are yet to be worked out.

The Northern Susitna Institute was formed in 2006 and housed in a building that was formerly a church. The mission was very similar to the Denali Education Center and the group was community-focused, offering a variety of events to children, youth, adults and families. It as the parent organization to the Alaska Folks School and Classroom with a View.

“They did a lot of great stuff,” Rodwell said. “They have great relationships with other groups in town.”

But the all-volunteer agency faltered in recent years and was in danger of closing. Merging with Denali Education Center keeps programs operating.

Denali Education Center formed in 1989 as the Denali Foundation initially and is a nonprofit educational partner of Denali National Park and Preserve. DEC’s mission is to connect people to Denali by providing visitors and Alaska residents of all ages the chance to form lasting connections to Denali and the natural world.

Denali Education Center providea residential education programs in partnership with other nonprofit and affinity groups, including Road Scholar. DEC also hosts summer camps, naturalist-led day programs for park visitors and educational lectures, concerts and workshops for the local community.

For more information see www.denali.org.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.

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