Plowing of Denali Park Road

Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
P.O. Box 202592
Anchorage, AK  99520
Denali National Park and Preserve
P.O. Box 9
Denali Park, AK  99755

Ref: Winter Road Plowing

Dear Paul Anderson,

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the proposal to plow the Denali National Park access road to mile 12 in the winter and to be opened to private and commercial vehicles.

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition is a state-wide, non-profit organization with approximately 500 members/supporters which seeks to maintain quiet places for Alaskans and its wildlife on public lands.   AQRC’s vision statement is: “Alaska is a place where people appreciate and protect natural quiet and natural sounds”. Our mission statement reads: “The mission of AQRC is to maintain and restore natural sounds and natural quiet in Alaska through advocacy and education for the benefit of people and wildlife.” We believe that natural quiet and natural sounds–the natural soundscape–should be recognized by all public land managers as critical resources in and of themselves that deserve no less consideration than, for example, clean air and water or fish and wildlife and their habitat.  We also believe in a fair and balanced allocation of the public lands for both non-motorized and motorized recreation.
The Wilderness Zone of Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the few, and the only large area, that is closed to snowmobiling between Anchorage and Fairbanks.  Snowmobiling has become so popular in areas adjacent to the George Parks Highway that it is difficult to find places to cross-country ski and snowshoe where winter silence can be savored and the winter snow pack is unmarred,  free of snowmobile tracks.  No one seems to know just how detrimental all the snowmobile activity is to wintering wildlife that is already stressed by the rigors of winter.  Denali National Park has served well to provide wildlife a sanctuary as one of the main founding reasons to be set it  aside as a refuge for wildlife in 1916.  It is a treasure to have, and to just know that there still exist, a place that is free of mechanized use in the winter.
While the proposal to plow the road will not open the area to snowmobiling it will add a level of activity to the area that has never been there before.  There will be vehicle traffic, both private and commercial, and maintenance plows and their noise and there will be skiers and snowshoers exploring places that have not seen much use by humans in the winter.  While these muscle powered activities are quiet they can still be disruptive to wildlife that are not accustomed to human activity.
Visitors can ski, snowshoe, skijore or dog sled up the road from headquarters now without plowing the road further.  A few miles from the parking area it is quiet and pristine.  It has provided a road accessible backcountry experience for many years.  It would be best to keep it as it is and not encroach upon the winter wilderness further.  The wilderness of Denali National Park is a haven for its’ wildlife and people seeking a slower pace where quiet can be enjoyed.
Why is NPS proposing to plow the road to mile 12?  Is there a lot of demand to so?  If the decision is made to open the road to a winter parking area at mile12 it will be important to monitor the areas that wintering wildlife, such as moose and sheep, are utilizing and protect these areas from being over used by backcountry users that may inadvertently push them out of winter habitat by their presence. If the road is plowed there should not be any other infrastructure put in place. Will the parking area at mile 12 be open to camping?  If so please do not allow the use of generators.  Do not allow commercial operators to put facilities in along the road.
Continue to protect the winter soundscape and do not plow the road to mile 12.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Brian Okonek
Vice president
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition