Four mayors of Interior Alaska communities met at Denali National Park last week. They try to rendezvous at least once a year to share common concerns about Interior Alaska.
Denali Borough Mayor Clay Walker hosted the gathering that included Nenana Mayor Josh Verhagan, North Pole Mayor Mike Welch and Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward. Unable to attend were Samantha Thompson, mayor of the city of Anderson, and Jim Matherly, mayor of the city of Fairbanks.
“It was really good to spend quality time together,” Walker said. “Some of it is sharing our issues and maybe even successes or challenges. But also, as leaders of public organizations, it’s good to have somebody who can share what you’re going through.”
Walker happens to be a former bus driver into Denali National Park, so he guided the group on a trip along the Denali Park Road.
“There’s just so much we have in common regionally, between Fairbanks, Nenana and the Denali Borough,” Walker said.
Mayors in the greater Fairbanks area already have a tradition of getting together on a regular basis. That, Walker said, is a great precedent. Mayors can regularly touch base and discuss topics of mutual interest.
“I think that’s where it got started,” he said. “We are broadening that out.”
Walker said he runs into the other Interior mayors at meetings like the Alaska Municipal League, but they all see the need to connect even more often. Their last meeting was in Nenana and next year, they’ll rendezvous in North Pole.
Finding suitable meeting times that work for each mayor is never easy, but the meeting is always worthwhile, he added.
It was especially enjoyable for him to share his longtime knowledge about Denali National Park.
“It was fun to get out there and share the park, talk a little bit about the park and the history with fellow leaders and Alaskans who know the area really well and history really well — and how it relates to the broader region,” Walker said.
The mayors had a chance to see the Pretty Rock landslide on Polychrome Pass firsthand. This is the active landslide, at Mile 45.5, that caused the park road to close at Mile 42.
“I thought it was really important they see the extent of the issue in person, with their own eyes,” he said.
The timing of the trip proved to be fortuitous. The next day? Snow closed the park road.