HEALY, Alaska — The desks in the Denali Borough School District and the Denali Preschool and Learning Center were empty Thursday morning. About 200 students ages 3 to 18 bundled up and walked to the Tri-Valley Community Center to celebrate the launch of the new Denali National Park and Preserve quarter.
Officials from the United States Mint and the National Park Service, along with 250 local residents and out-of-state coin collectors, joined them for a standing-room-only gathering.
The Denali quarter is the 15th coin to be released in the United States Mint America the Beautiful Quarters Program. The “heads” side features the familiar George Washington portrait, while the “tails” side of the coin illustrates Mount McKinley and a Dall sheep.
The event included words from Denali historian Jane Bryant, Acting Park Superintendent Jeff Mow, Assistant Superintendent Elwood Lynn and United States Mint plant manager at Denver David Croft. The Eielson Air Force Base 71st Civil Air Patrol was on hand to present the colors, and the Denali Borough School District choir performed the national anthem and “Alaska’s Flag.”
Mow and Croft ceremoniously poured the new quarters into a metal gold pan.
“Now that’s a great sound,” Lynn said.
Each attendant younger than 18 received one of the new quarters.
Croft said seeing all the children in their winter gear coming into the community center reminded him of growing up in Canada.
“I love seeing children participate in these events,” he said. “I hope that we have sparked the interest of coin collecting into some of them today.”
Many people were anxious with cash in hand to be one of the first to own a roll of the new quarters. The line at First National Bank Alaska’s Healy branch, which is located in the community center, wound its way out the door, down the hall and into the large meeting room.
Illinois residents and collectors Alan and Debbie Rider planned their weeklong Alaska trip around the launch.
“It is beautiful here, and we knew we didn’t want to miss this launch,” Alan said.
They planned several of their last vacations around the circulation of America the Beautiful quarters.
Artist and collector Chuck Taylor was at the U.S. post office to further authenticate the first release of the coins. Taylor, who has been the artist for the postal service pictorial cancellations for all 15 of the America the Beautiful quarters, carefully endorsed each postage stamp that had been applied to the roll of quarters and included the Healy, Alaska, cancellation and date.
The process proves the coins were acquired on the first day of release and makes them more valuable.
Artwork and collecting allows Taylor to travel to the places depicted by the program.
“I am living the dream. There are downsides sometimes, like not driving much more than 30 miles an hour in the snow on my way from Anchorage yesterday,” Taylor said.
The knack for coin collecting likely will have been sparked in some students.
“I missed government class, but got ‘paid’ to witness a moment in history,” 11th-grader Liam Juhl said.