October 22, 2019
We wish to offer our observations on the NPS/DNP proposal for Kantishna and Wonder Lakes in Denali National Park. This proposal includes creating increased recreation opportunities, such as:
a network of trails (up to 80 miles), additional lodging
and camping options such as roadside camp grounds, backcountry campsites, and rustic lodging.
Overall, Alaskans For Wildlife (AFW) does not support the proposed new plan for Denali National Park. Given that the original stated purpose of the Park emphasizes NPS’s responsibility to protect and promote wildlife and wilderness values, we view the proposals as an irresponsible fantasy of Park management.
The proposed Park plan essentially ignores this responsibility, with only occasional mention of it here and there, in spite of the specific emphasis on this purpose as well as visitor experience of these values.
For the new plan to be relevant, it mustfocus upon the protection and promotion of the wildlife and wilderness experience for Park visitors. This, in spite of the current challenges of Climate Change, serious effects of trophy hunting in the Park Preserve, and the impacts of the proposed Kantishna upgrade on Park wildlife.
These new proposals ignore the existence of a 50 million dollar maintenance backlog in the Park. That this exercise is even happening now seems to us to be totally incredulous.
The thrust of the two parts of the new plan focuses on developing yet more transportation services and supportive infrastructure on the way past Wonder Lake to Kantishna, utilizing an already badly damaged Park road at mile 45, and using a busing system that is already excessively out of compliance with DNP’s own vehicle management plan. Every morning, there is a “wall of buses,” as one recently described the present seasonal scene, at thestart line of the morning tours into the Park.
We are aware that private in-holders cannot be prevented from expanding their operations in the Kantishna area, but we also realize these changes will pressure the NPS to increase their obligation to upgrade the transportation infrastructure in the Park. This would include new roads to accommodate the people who use the new lodges. In any case, such upgrades would certainly increase the bus traffic on the present Park road and result in all of the associated consequences.
One of the many negative consequences would be an increase in the monetary value of the private inholdings, which would in turn raise the price of any future Park buyout of the properties. And we feel these buyouts should be a high NPS priority in any future planning for the Park.
Since the NPS seems to consider private in-holders with the same status as Park visitors, in the proposed plan they would be treated no differently than casual visitors. This seems patently ridiculous to us.
We recognize that in coming decades the Park will see greatly increased visitation, and thus will see more and more pressure on the stated core values of the Park, especially on the conservation of the wildlife and wilderness there.
In light of the above, we believe the NPS needs a plan that emphasizes restraint, especially the necessity of limiting the number of Park visitors. This could be accomplished by simply using a system of reservations.
We do agree that the new plan should include the improvement of the pedestrian trails in the western section of the Park and Preserve, as long as this upgrade adheres to the core values of the Park, with wildlife and wilderness values considered as paramount.
We believe the proposed plan, as stated,exacerbates the aspect of excess, and that it will only encourage more excess, especially if it follows through with the construction of a new road that facilitates and encourages visitation by more and more visitors and the buses needed to carry them from one side of the Park to the other. This is industrial tourism in its worst form.
In general, we highly recommend that the NPS planners develop a set of instructions that features more robust promotion and defense of the wilderness and wildlife values expressed in the mission statement of Denali National Park.
Since the NPS has many other spectacular wilderness parks in Alaska, we encourage you to collaborate with each other in both developing a new plan that incorporates our suggestions, and a public relations effort to educate the general public about any final decisions regarding a revised system of visitation.
Jim Kowalsky, Chair
Alaskans For Wildlife