South Denali Visitors’ Center Concerns

April 1, 2013

Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
P.O. Box 202592
Anchorage, AK 99520

Ben Ellis, Director, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation
John Moosey, Manager, Matanuska-Susitna Borough
Don Striker, Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve

Dear Director Ellis, Mat-Su Borough Manager Mosley and Superintendent Striker:

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) Board of Directors believes that Phase 1 construction of the proposed South Denali Visitor Center Complex (SDVCC) in Denali State Park (DSP) should not take place until there is funding to also complete Phase 2.

AQRC is very concerned that necessary guidelines are not in place to control development and protect park resources, assuring a quality visitor experience at the proposed SDVCC in DSP. There have been many plans over the last 40 years to develop a major tourist destination in DSP. No steps have been taken to protect the park itself, as well as the region, from the hundreds of thousands of projected visitors and the many businesses that will crop up in the area to serve them. Development of the SDVCC depends on cooperative arrangements between the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (MSB), Denali National Park and Preserve (DNP&P) and the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (DPOR). Each has a significant role to play.

During the summer of 2013, Phase I of the construction of SDVCC in DSP is slated to begin. It is probable that the MSB assembly will approve a land donation enabling the state to receive land that will be used for an access road exiting the Parks Highway at Milepost 135.4. The road, approximately one mile in length, will lead to an area where a maintenance/ranger office, 35 site RV campground, 22 site day-use parking lot and interpretive trail will be built. Electrical power will be extended along the Parks Highway to Milepost 135. Completion of Phase I will have major implications to the visitor use patterns in DSP both summer and winter. When additional funding is secured, Phase 2 will extend the road to the site where the proposed SDVCC and trails will be constructed. Additional facilities (30 bus parking lot, 100 additional car parking sites, 15 site walk-in campground and a visitor contact area ) will also be added to the development built in Phase I. Completion of the entire SDVCC is estimated to cost $40 million. Currently, there is no funding for Phase 2. SDVCC is expected to be a major attraction for tourism and to provide a “world class” experience. Unfortunately, the necessary steps to maintain the region as a “world class” experience have not yet been taken.

Adequate staffing and funding for both the short and long term operation and maintenance of the SDVCC and resource protection of DSP in general is lacking. DSP’s summer resource management and day-to-day maintenance and operations are currently minimally funded by general state funds. Phase 1 of the SDVCC has received funding for construction only. There is no guarantee of funding Phase 2. The 2011 Feasibility Study is premised on the assertion that the entire SDVCC (Phase 1 and 2) will be up and running. The major attraction and money maker will be the visitor center built in Phase 2. The absence of that revenue and the lack of park staff management will make management of the Phase I summer visitor stream very difficult. Is it anticipated that DNP&P will participate with staffing and/or funding for Phase 1 ?

Additionally, we assume that upon completion of Phase I construction, the parking lot and ranger station will also be open in winter. If so, the parking lot and road will need to be plowed to accommodate the ranger station and provide parking for winter visitors. Where will the funding to operate and maintain these facilities come from ? Will a fee be charged for vehicle parking ? Will it be sufficient to pay for proper management of activities and to protect the park ? We were informed that staff working to develop a trails plan for DSP has been diverted to other projects. It is AQRC’s opinion that without a trails plan in place that designates non-motorized winter use areas for recreational opportunities, snow machines will overrun the area, displace any quiet recreation from the area and create a pattern of motorized use, including up to and around the site of the proposed visitor center. This may preclude any future ability or desire to designate areas closed to snow machines. Motorized recreational use around the visitor center will degrade the “world class” experience. Many people visiting this nations natural wonders like Denali are also seeking the natural sounds and quiet of the region.

AQRC asks that Phase 1 construction be held off until there is funding in place for Phase 2. This will assure that when the project is complete there will be an adequate revenue stream to properly manage impacts created by the new facility. Over the years, in multiple public meetings and comment periods, the public has voiced concern regarding the proposed SDVCC. Since the facility is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly, it is imperative, before construction begins, that management guidelines and regulations are in place that will protect the region and assure a quality visitor experience. Many critical issues have not been addressed. To assure that the overall region is managed properly the DSP Special Land Use District (SPUD) must be strengthened and the DSP Trails Plan must be completed.


Brian Okonek
President, Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition