Wrangell-St Elias National Park   1 comment

Park entrance sign. Photo by J. Stephen Conn, 2009.

Park entrance sign. Photo by J. Stephen Conn, 2009.

Where Is It: The visitor center is located in Copper Center, AK, which is 200 miles east of Anchorage and 250 miles south of Fairbanks.

The Birth: The park was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

It Happened Here: From Wikipedia:

In January 1979 Udall introduced a modified version of H.R. 39. Following markup and negotiations between the House and Senate versions, the bill as modified by the Senate was approved by the House on November 12.  On December 2, 1980 the ANILCA bill was signed into law by Jimmy Carter, converting Wrangell-St. Elias to a national park and preserve with an initial area of 8,147,000 acres (3,297,000 ha) in the park and 4,171,000 acres (1,688,000 ha) in the preserve. Boundaries between the park and preserve areas were drawn according to perceived values of scenery versus hunting potential In accordance with the legislation, the designated areas included 9,660,000 acres (3,910,000 ha) of wilderness, stipulated in a somewhat less restrictive manner than standard practice in the continental United States.

Opposition to the park persisted after Congressional designation from some Alaskans, who resented federal government presence in general and National Park Service presence in particular. Vandalism persisted, with a ranger cabin burned and an airplane damaged, while others skirted regulations and voiced resentment of what, in their view, was an elitist attitude embodied in the park and the Park Service. However, relations improved for a time, with local businesses promoting the park and working with the Park Service on tourism projects. Incidents continued, notably involving arson at a ranger station, and relations bottomed again in 1994 when the park superintendent Karen Wade testified before Congress for increased funding in a way that was perceived to confirm resident’s suspicions about the Park Service, exacerbated by commentary from local newspapers that was wrongly attributed to Wade. This marked the high point of resentment against the park, as local residents began to take part in Park Service sponsored events. Nevertheless, the 1979 designation of the region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site continued to be seen with suspicion. The John Birch Society claimed that the designation was park of a United Nations plan to assume control of the U.S. national park system.

The state of Alaska proposed major improvements to the McCarthy Road in 1997, planning to pave it and add scenic turnouts and trailheads along its length. Although the road remains gravel, it has been widened and smoothed. Some rental car agencies continue to prohibit use of their vehicles on the McCarthy Road.

Size: It’s by far our largest Park, at 13.2 million acres. It’s 6 times the size of Yellowstone National Park. This single park and national preserve is larger than Switzerland.

# Visitors: 89,138 visitors in 2012. Attendance goes over 20,000 per month June – August. In the winter months, less than 50 visit the park in a month. Note that the park has 13.2 million acres … so there is a great deal of empty space all of the time.

Plants: Fireweed, the most common flower in Alaska, is prevalent in the Park …along with 886 other vascular plant species, which represents 54% of the Alaskan flora.

Animals: 21 species of fresh water fish have been documented in the park, including sockeye salmon, northern pike, chinook and Arctic grayling. 93 species of birds have been documented, including 24 that remain through the winter. Common birds are the rock ptarmigan, hermit thrushes and hairy woodpeckers. Owls include great horned owls, northern hawk owls and boreal owls.

13,000 Dall sheep inhabit the Park, which is one of the largest concentrations in North America. Other large mammals include black bear, caribou and the gray wolf.

Choices:  Trip planning is key, per the Park website:

A successful hiking trip requires adequate planning. You should be prepared for everything and should not count on aid or rescue from others. Here, you will be on your own. Caution and good judgment are key ingredients for a pleasant expedition. For many hikers, hiring the services of a local guide will make the trip safer and more enjoyable. In general, the areas above tree line (~3,000′) afford the easiest hiking and best views. These areas are often accessed by chartering a flight to one of the many possible “bush” landing strips. Note that there are many more places to land than are shown on maps. Air taxis will often land on gravel bars or on the tundra. The routes depicted on the “Trail Illustrated” map are the most popular.

Fees: There are no entrance fees.

Staying There: Until 2012, there was no camping or lodging available in the park. That changed with the opening of the Kendesnii Campground. There are private options available on private land contained within the boundaries of the park.

Contact Info:

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Mile 106.8 Richardson Highway
PO Box 439
Copper Center, AK 99573
Park business line: 907-822-5234
Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center in Copper Center: 907-822-7250
Cabin reservation line: 907-822-7253


National Park Service: Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve

National Park Service: The Goat Trail


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