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.

Private vehicles will be allowed on the Denali National Park and Preserve road this season along with commercially operated guided vehicle tours. These are some of the changes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic as the park moves its official opening day to July 1.

Visitors will be able to drive personal vehicles into the park using a new reservation system that opens on June 1. The park announced Wednesday that visitors can reserve a date and a window of time to drive into the park, at www.recreation.gov. More details are pending.

The park will also open the road to commercially operated guided vehicle tours for the 2020 season. Applications from those commercial operators are due June 4, and that commercial use will be available July 1 to Sept. 17.

“With the cancellation of the summer cruise season, we expect to see fewer visitors this summer,” said Denice Swanke, acting superintendent of Denali, in a news release. “We remain committed to the bus system, but fewer cruise ship visitors means we’ll be putting fewer buses on the road, so there will be some unused capacity that we want to make available to the public.”

The addition of those two opportunities are in line with the park’s current vehicle management plan, according to Dave Schirokauer, science and resources team leader.

“We believe these options will allow us to maintain our commitment to protecting wildlife along the Park Road, while still providing a unique experience for the public and supporting local communities,” he said in a news release.

Both narrated tour and transit bus service will be provided this season by Doyon/Aramark Joint Ventures. Schedules are still being finalized. Reservations will be available through www.reservedenali.com. The current plan is to operate at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing on each bus. That service begins July 1.

Denali Visitor Center will open July 1 through Sept 23, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Eielson Visitor Center will be open July 1 until Sept 22. Daily hours are yet to be determined. Sanctuary River and Igloo Creek campgrounds will open with bus service. Reservations can be made at www.reservedenali.com.

The Park Road is open to private vehicles as far as Teklanika Rest Stop at Mile 30 until June 1. All the front-country trails are accessible. The Bear and Wolf Loops of Riley Creek Campground can now be reserved. Savage River and Teklanika River Campgrounds will open June 16. The Riley Creek Mercantile will also open June 16.

The annual road lottery, scheduled for Sept. 18-22 (with Sept. 19 being Military Appreciation Day) will be held as usual. Applications to be included in the lottery can be submitted June 1-30 at www.recreation.gov.

According to the park news release, park operations will be adjusted as conditions change and new guidance becomes available.

“The park is working closely with the NPS Office of Public Health and using CDC guidance to ensure public spaces are safe and clean,” according to the news release.

The park website encourages visitors to wear masks when social distancing is not possible.

The Denali Park kennels will likely not be open this summer, according to the webpage.

Up-to-date information is available on the park’s web page at www.nps.gov/dena. Go to the Current Conditions page.

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

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