FAIRBANKS — Technology and nature are often considered incompatible, or at least dissociated, but Denali National Park and Preserve is proving the two realms can have plenty of beneficial overlap.
The scientists and rangers in Denali frequently use technology to aid their work throughout the park’s and preserve’s more than 6 million combined acres.
This year, the park debuted a new summer camp experience for high school students called “Technology in the Wilderness,” that takes students around the park, introduces them to scientists and shows them how technology and nature intersect. The camp brought its first cohort of students to the park earlier this month, including eight students from around the state, three of whom came from the Fairbanks area.
“We have so much amazing science happening in Denali, and we realized we had the potential to create a program that showcases that for high school students around the state,” said Sierra McLane, National Park Service director at the Murie Science and Learning Center and education coordinator for the park.
Students spent four days in the park, during which they learned about subjects such as geographic mapping systems, wolf tracking, soundscape recording and plant identification.
One of the camp’s major focuses during the first week was on GIS — Geographic Information Systems. The country is in the midst of changing GIS systems by 2022, according to McLane, and through that process the park must update many of its GIS landmarks.
Many of the markers from the old system were pounded into rocks up and down the Denali Park Road in the 1960s, McLane said, and haven’t been checked since then. To switch over to the new system, she said they need to locate as many of the old markers as possible so they can tie the old and new sytems together.
The camp provided the perfect opportunity to do some of that work, McLane said, because with the numerous extra feet and eyes of high school students, park staff can more easily track down many of the harder to find markers.
The camp isn’t all about the wonders of technology, though. McLane said there is certainly a limit to how much technology should be used in the wilderness, and the camp provided the perfect platform for students and staff to discuss that collaboratively.
It provided a great chance to discuss, “what technology do we use to understand and protect wilderness, but then simultaneously is there a limit to the types of technology we should use in wilderness to protect the wilderness character?” McLane said.
The park will he hosting a second camp beginning on Tuesday. More camps are planned for summer 2017. The schedule for those future events will be released in January. Camps cost $300, but scholarships covering 100 percent, 75 percent and 50 percent of the costs are available.
During their visit, camp participants also had the chance to hike off-trail with park staff and explore wilderness areas near Igloo Creek, camp near Riley Creek Campground and hike the Mt. Healy overlook trail.
“(Everyone’s) favorite thing was hiking off-trail in the wilderness,” McLane said. “That was pretty special, when you step off of a road and off of a trail and into this soft, spongy tundra with all of these spruce trees around you, when your instructor says ‘Don’t follow the person in front of you, make your own path,’ it’s a pretty powerful experience.”
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: