08/17/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 08/17/2019 21:14
The Denali National Park and Preserve superintendent has authorized opening the Park Road to normal operations beginning at 5 a.m. on Sunday, August 18, 2019. Crews have spent the day repairing damage due to water erosion, mudslides, and rock slides throughout the western half of the road and after assessing various critical points along the route believe it is in stable condition.
'Park staff have done a remarkable job responding to this incident and ensuring the safety and comfort of park visitors,' said Chief Ranger Erika Jostad. 'Folks from all disciplines have come together to safely accomplish this important task. Their commitment to ensuring Denali National Park and Preserve remains accessible to all visitors was demonstrated by how quickly the team was able to respond to this incident and repair the damage to the road.'
Consistent and heavy precipitation over the past several weeks has created a situation in which the road surface and surrounding soils have become overly saturated, culminating on Friday with a series of significant mudslides and rock slides, as well as water erosion due to swollen creeks and rivers. Weather stations in some parts of the park measured rainfall totals as high as 18 inches over the last seventeen days.
'Two weeks of persistent heavy rain just became too much for the landscape to contain,' said acting Public Information Officer Paul Ollig. 'Some areas of the park received nearly 9 times the average rainfall totals for August in half that time. All that water had to go somewhere, and it ended up carrying a lot of mud, rocks, and road surface with it.'
With weather forecasts improving over the next week, crews believe they are in a good position to ensure the road remains stable. In the long term, however, park management suspects these recent extreme weather patterns may no longer be isolated and rare events. 'It's clear that our changing climate is having dramatic impacts on Alaska,' said Ollig. 'Park scientists expect that we'll be seeing more of these intense precipitation events in the future. You start to couple that with melting permafrost and larger and more frequent wildfires, and a rain storm can suddenly become a much more dynamic situation. This requires the park to be adaptive in how it manages the Park Road.'
The first buses will begin the carrying people into the park as early as 5 a.m. tomorrow morning, and visitors will have full access to Denali's spectacular wilderness. The park will continue to release information regarding any changes to road conditions as it becomes available. The public is encouraged to check our current conditions page for any updates or alerts.
'We'd like to thank our Joint Venture partners for all their assistance in dealing with this closure,' said Superintendent Don Striker. 'Though brief, these events can have a large impact on people, and Joint Venture did an excellent job of working with us to shuttle visitors to different areas of the park, adapting their tours and allowing people to still experience the open portion of the road, and making sure people who were out in the backcountry could be shuttled back to the entrance.'
While campgrounds and Denali's backcountry are open, and there is access to all trails in the park, the public is advised that some trails may have experienced water damage and debris flows, and rivers are flowing exceptionally high, making crossings potentially dangerous. Trail crews are working across the park to address these issues. Park Rangers are available at visitor contact areas to offer updated information on trail conditions, and offer assistance to visitors in planning their adventure.