Superintendent Paul Anderson recently sent a letter to stakeholders asking for input on expanding commercially guided hiking to the McKinley Station Trail and the Savage Alpine Trail, the latter of which is presently under construction. The 2006 Backcountry Management Plan authorized guided hiking on several specific entrance area trails. The McKinley Station Trail was not mentioned at the time of the plan, and guiding hiking on the Savage Alpine Trail was allowed only for those commercial groups staying at Savage Campground.
The rationale presented for the opening the McKinley Station Trail is “to allow those guided parties using the newly rehabilitated Triple Lakes Trail to have a northern access or exit route” and also to “encourage those guided groups to spend time at the Denali Visitor Center either before or after their hike.”
The discussion for the Savage Alpine Trail is more complicated. To quote from the NPS letter:
The original reason for limiting commercial guided use to parties camping at the Savage River Campground was to limit commercial traffic on the Park Road beyond the Denali Visitor Center. Additionally most of the Savage Alpine Trail is in designated Wilderness, and park managers were concerned about the impact of numerous commercially guided groups on wilderness character, including solitude and self-reliance. However, further experience and analysis of impacts from commercially guided groups on the other trails in the Park entrance area indicates that this concern is unfounded. Commercially guided groups are limited to a maximum of 12 people, just as are non-guided groups. Guided groups can ride the free Savage River Shuttle from the Denali Visitor Center to and from the Savage Alpine Trailhead. There does not appear to be a discernable difference between the ecological and sociological impacts of commercially guided and non-guided hiking groups on the entrance area trails. Furthermore, allowing guided hiking on this excellent four to five hour hike of discovery through numerous park biomes-from the riparian spruce forest through alder and willow transitions to the open alpine meadows and dry alpine tundra would encourage more park visitors to get out and experience the wonder and beauty of this special place.
NPS is considering making this change as a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act, so there would be no evaluation of alternatives or further public evaluation. However, they are taking comment to see if there are issues with these changes that they are missing. Questions may be sent to the park’s Chief of Concessions, Mark Charpentier at 907-683-9553, or to the park’s Compliance Officer, Steve Carwile at 907-644-3612. You may also write to: Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve, Box 9, Denali Park, Alaska 99755. Of particular importance in your comments at this point is to identify any substantive adverse impacts to this change if you can identify them. No deadline for comments was given in the letter.
DCC would also be interested in your thoughts. Please copy anything you send to NPS to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.