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Raging Nenana River chews away at Parks Highway near Denali

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Posted: Saturday, September 22, 2012 9:24 pm | Updated: 11:31 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

DENALI PARK, Alaska — The powerful Nenana River hit its highest levels ever Saturday and gnawed at the roadway at 240 Mile Parks Highway, reducing the road to one lane.

There are no longer tourists rafting down the river, which borders Denali National Park and Preserve. Large trees and debris fill the waters, which peaked at about 14.7 feet.

Normally, the rapid at 240 Mile is a popular whitewater rapid called Rooster Tail or Razorback.

The river generally is about 30 feet below the highway here. Now, it is only 2 feet below the road. Instead of looking down at the river, observers merely look straight ahead to see it.

The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities began

monitoring this section of road Friday. On Saturday, heavy equipment removed the guardrail and watched as the river began chewing away at the asphalt.

“It’s so impressive,” said Bill Overington, owner of Denali Outdoor Center. “It’s such a powerful, powerful event.”

Overington said he is pretty happy his company’s rafting season is over.

This event, he said, will change the river for next year.

“Once water levels recede, the rapids will be quite different,” he said. “We’ve certainly never seen it this high before. I think the erosion factor on this river is so high, when we have this kind of a high water mark, there will be some real changes to features of the river.”

He remembers those other high water events clearly. On Sept. 15, 1990, the river reached 14.4 feet. In August 2003, it peaked at 14.37. This week, it has reached at least 14.7.

“In terms of cfs (cubic feet per second) that is 3,500 cfs higher than the previous highest water level,” Overington said.

Area residents visit various sites along the river frequently, from Carlo Creek to Healy. At McKinley Village put-in, the river lapped at stairs of a boathouse, normally far back from the river’s edge.

McKinley Chalet Resort tied its boathouse to shore. The structure started floating two days ago. Water surrounded management housing and lapped at the sides of warehouses.

River landmarks disappeared underwater: The “kissing rock” at Squirrel Corner was underwater. Twin Rock Rapid? Gone.

Powerful waves suddenly appeared in Cable Car Rapid and in sections of the canyon. The cable that normally stretches high above river runners heads in Cable Car Rapid now skip violently up and down on top of the waves.

Road crews cannot start rebuilding the riverbank until the water recedes, but they continue to compact rock into the riverbank as a temporary measure.

The flood watch remains in effect until 12:15 p.m. today.

The Parks Highway will remain one lane at 240 Mile until the water recedes.

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