In September 2014, the National Park Service (NPS) sought input on how to deal with social trails and proposed the idea of establishing new trails around the Eielson Visitor Center area. DCC submitted 5 pages of comments hoping to influence Denali in its planning process (see previous news: “DCC urges NPS to retain ‘no formal trails in wilderness’ policy – Read more in our comments on Eielson-area trails“. It seems that some of our suggestions were taken into consideration.
Until March 1, 2015 the NPS is seeking public comment on an Environmental Assessment (EA) evaluating improvements to the Gorge Creek Trail, which is located south of the Eielson Visitor Center (EVC) at Mile 66 on the Denali Park Road. The NPS is considering improving and repairing the Gorge Creek Trail in order to protect park resources and enhance the visitor experience by providing a safe, sustainable trail.
Access to the current Gorge Creek Trail is via a signed spur departing the Tundra Loop Trail southwest of the visitor center. This unimproved trail descends below the Eielson Visitor Center via a series of user-created (social) trails, eventually joining the gravel bar of Gorge Creek. The trail offers spectacular views of Denali, as well as access to a popular natural overlook that attracts many park visitors who travel to the visitor center via bus. Day hikers and backpackers use the trail to access the Thorofare River and adjacent backcountry units.
Shortly after the junction with the Tundra Loop Trail, the Gorge Creek Trail becomes braided and gullied until the numerous social paths merge into two trails. As the trail descends, the slope increases, resulting in a very steep and crumbly hiking surface and extreme rutting (as much as 24″ deep in the worst places). At the gravel bar level, numerous braided trails, in addition to one main trail, snake through high willows before emerging near Gorge Creek.
The EA evaluates two alternatives:
- Alternative 1 – Existing Conditions – No Action
The National Park Service (NPS) would not reroute or improve the Gorge Creek Trail and visitors would continue to travel on the existing social trails and possibly create additional ones, increasing erosion and resource damage.
- Alternative 2 – Reroute Sections and Improve Gorge Creek Trail (NPS-Preferred)
This alternative would replace the braided network of user-created trails below Eielson with a formal hiking trail to reach the Gorge Creek gravel bar. Redundant trails in the area would be abandoned and re-vegetated.The existing social trails below Eielson follow either ridgelines that have eroded beyond repair or descend unstable slopes into a streambed that is steep, eroded, and filled with thick vegetation. A safer and more sustainable route would be created.
- The NPS has published a draft EA for this issue entitled “Gorge Creek Trail Improvements”. It is available on the NPS planning website. The draft EA analyzes the impacts of the proposed alternative and the no action alternative.Comments on the EA may be submitted through March 1, 2015 preferably via the NPS planning website. Comments may also be faxed to (907) 683-9612, or mailed to the address below:Superintendent
Denali National Park and Preserve
ATTN: Gorge Creek EA
P.O. Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755
For questions about the EA, please contact Paula Holman, Project Planning Lead, at (907) 683-6223, or contact her by email.