Denali National Park & Preserve Future Trails Plan

Sept. 27, 2015

Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition

P.O. Box 202592

Anchorage, AK 99520

 

To: Denali National Park and Preserve

Ref: Denali National Park and Preserve Future Trail Management Plan

 

kathleen_kelly@nps.gov

dena_planning@nps.gov

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/denalitrailsplan

 

Dear Kathleen Kelly, Jared Zimmerman and Molly McKinley:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Denali National Park and Preserve Future Trail Management Plan.

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) is dedicated to protecting the rights of Alaskans to quiet places for the benefit of public land users, home and cabin owners, communities, businesses, wildlife, visitors, and future generations.

Alaska’s natural beauty, wildness, wildlife, expanses of undisturbed open space, and peace and quiet are among its most cherished values, and Alaskans, our visitors, and future generations have the right to experience the natural sights, sounds and quiet beauty of our state. In the vast majority of cases, the obtrusive noise, summer landscape degradation and winter snowscape defacement, exhaust, and dangers of motorized recreation are incompatible with those special natural experiences.

Ironically, accessible natural quiet can be easier to find in the lower 48, in the many designated Wildernesses where motorized recreation is prohibited, than in supposedly wild Alaska, where many federal land managers erroneously believe that ANILCA requires them to allow obtrusive recreational activities. Recreational snowmachining, inaccurately characterized as “traditional,” is allowed in spite of its numerous adverse impacts and the conflicts it so often creates with truly traditional, low impact means of access like walking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. We can and should do better.

Natural quiet and natural sounds should be recognized by all public land managers as critical resources in and of themselves that deserve no less consideration than clean air and water or fish and wildlife and their habitat. Soundscape plans should be prepared. The analysis of proposed agency actions should include a determination of the possible effects on natural quiet and natural sounds and on the humans and wildlife that enjoy or depend on them. Alternatives should be considered that protect quiet places and bring back quiet to places where it has been lost.

AQRC, for the most part, is pleased with the trail-less policy DNP&P has taken to protect the wilderness character and wilderness backcountry experience. It is important for people to have the opportunity to explore the backcountry finding their own way cross country.

It is also important in DNP&P for there to be a range of hiking activities. It is appropriate for there to be well constructed trails in the front country for the protection of the environment in heavily used areas and to encourage families and people of all ability levels to go walking to take in the sights and sounds of nature.

Unfortunately the soundscape of the trails near the Visitor Center, Riley Creek, Nenana River and Mt. Healy includes a lot of mechanical noise from airplanes, helicopters, trains and traffic. Heavy flightseeing activity impacts the soundscape of much of the backcountry accessible from the park road. Recreational snowmachining affects the soundscape in many valleys and hills along the south side of the Alaska Range that are not in designated wilderness areas of the park. NPS needs to do more to restore the soundscape of these areas to natural conditions.

Bikes should be restricted to the road or hardened dedicated trails. Their use in the backcountry is not appropriate.

The decision to allow pets on trails must be considered carefully. Will having dogs on the trails create problems with wildlife or decrease the publics chance to observe wildlife. Will pets spread disease to wildlife? If pets are allowed it should be only on a few dedicated trails and on a leach. Dog waste must be picked up and disposed of in an appropriate manner. Not everyone enjoys other people’s pets.

If snowmobile use is going to continue to be allowed in the preserve on the south side of the Alaska Range it should be restricted to a trail system. DNP&P land should not be used for unrestricted recreational snowmachine use. Such uncontrolled use defaces winter scenery and can adversely stress wintering wildlife. Where recreational snowmachining is allowed it dominates the winter activity pushing out other winter recreational use. A system that would protect the environment better and be more advantageous to other park users such as skiers and dog mushers is to develop marked trails that snowmachines are required to stay on. This would allow for a snowmachine touring type park experience, make snowmobiling safer, protect wildlife better than free riding and provide for easier enforcement.

Several previous DNP&P trail plans are for trails in Denali State Park (DSP) and actually not within the boundaries of DNP&P. AQRC is well aware of the cooperative planning effort between Alaska State Parks, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the National Park Service to build a destination South Denali Visitor Center within DSP. The NPS should not, however, be recommending trails in DSP until the state has completed a Trails Management Plan for DSP. The proposed location for a visitor center has changed numerous times. The trail plans for the south side within DSP are for locations no longer being considered for a visitor center location. If the NPS is to recommend and plan trails within DSP they should also be expected to be partners in managing, maintaining and enforcing trail use. DSP has consistently been short of rangers and trail crews to keep up with construction, reroutes, maintenance and enforcement on the trail system that now exists.

Thank you again for this chance to offer our comments on the Denali National Park and Preserve Future Tail Management Plan.

Sincerely,

Brian Okonek

President, Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition