Summary and Feedback
During community meetings held in 2012, we kept notes on the open-ended conversations. The questions have been summarized and we’ve added a response covering either what we said during the meetings or providing updated information. As always, we look forward to hearing from you directly. Our emailbox is firstname.lastname@example.org
Connecting People to Parks
A road to Kantishna?
More than one person at the Fairbanks meeting suggested that a road be extended from the Parks Highway to Kantishna to improve access to Denali. Others suggested the NPS pursue a road to connect to Katmai and other parks.
NPS Response: Many portions of a likely Kantishna route would be outside of the national park. The State of Alaska has studied this and it is currently not a priority for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. The State of Alaska is currently studying a road that could cross the southern portion of Gates of the Arctic, an area where an allowance for a corridor was made in the Alaska Lands Act. Other road proposals, such as one to Katmai, are largely decision for the State of Alaska which would need to commit to crossing many miles of state land before nearing the national park boundary.
Also, Denali NP has recently updated its road management plan and access on the park road (http://www.nps.gov/dena/naturescience/denali-park-road-capacity-study.htm is a link to the park’s road capacity work) (http://www.nps.gov/dena/parkmgmt/roadvehmgteis.htm is the link to the road planning).
Reach out to Anchorage residents:
One person suggested that we should reach out to people in Anchorage to find out why they are not visiting parks and how we can help change that.
NPS Response: Doing more of that reaching out will be part of our work in 2013 and beyond. Our ability to survey the public is limited, but we do work with school groups and the Anchorage public through the Alaska Public Lands Information Center. We also host a booth at the Great Alaska Sportsman Show and other events where information on visiting parks is available.
Reach out the military:
Another comment from Twitter was: "Great lesson from Carlsbad Caverns during WWII: reach out to the military in AK, visit the bases and encourage them to visit."
NPS Response: This is an excellent suggestion that we will follow up on in 2013. We’re also exploring a youth employment program focused on our Alaska military bases.
In Palmer and Fairbanks, several participants stated they were dissatisfied with how Alaskans are treated in national park units, particularly by law enforcement rangers, leaving many of them feeling shut out of their parks. There was a strong sense among these speakers that the NPS was not living up to the terms of the Alaska Lands Act of 1980 which established many of the Alaska park area and set up different rules than generally apply in Lower 48 national parks
NPS Response: Park managers and many of our employees attend training in the provisions of the Alaska Lands Act offered by the Institute of the North, and a number of our staff have called Alaska home for more than 20 years. Each spring, many parks bring in local residents to talk with seasonal and permanent staff about their lifestyle in remote locations and their understanding of the Lands Act and NPS management. This dialogue helps us when we are in the field, and, we hope, gives those residents a broader appreciation of the work required of our field rangers. Clearly, there are times when mistakes are made in the field by NPS staff; similarly there are actions taken by park users which might be considered ill-advised. We continue to stress to our staff the need to get to know and work with our Alaska neighbors while at the same time meeting the responsibilities given to us by Congress.
Free entrance to parks
Multiple people suggested eliminating economic barriers to visiting parks, including eliminating entrance fees.
NPS Response: Denali is the only Alaska park to charge an entrance fee (authorized by Congress), but other parks charge campground fees and concessioners charge fees for access on tour boats or buses. The Department of Interior recently announced Fee Free Days for all national parks and many other federal lands for 2013. http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/americas-great-outdoors-salazar-announces-fee-free-days-at-national-parks-other-public-lands-for-2013.cfm
Non-profit transportation at Denali
At the Anchorage meeting, it was suggested that the bus system be run by a non-profit to lower the cost of visiting.
The Denali concession contract will be re-bid in 2013 and is not limited to profit-making companies.
Improved trail access was mentioned by people in every open house. Some focused on handicapped accessible trails, others on expanded use of all-terrain vehicles, others on new trail construction.
NPS Response: We generally agree that improved access is a good thing, although in some locations hardened trail construction may not be practical or desirable. In other locations, we are moving to make improvements including work in 2012 and 2013. Work will continue next year on trails leading off the Nabesna Road in Wrangell-St. Elias so they can be reopened to multiple uses, including ATVs. Several trail improvements have taken place around the entrance area to Denali NP and near the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 65 of the park road.
Advancing the Education Mission
A social media questions was: Is there any current effort of getting Anchorage school kids involved in parks with programs?
In Anchorage and Fairbanks, the focus of our school programs comes through the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers. We also reach out to high school age students with a small number of Youth Conservation Corps and Student Conservation Association job opportunities. Both the Public Land Centers and parks have significant resources for teachers and students posted on their web sites. An index to those sites is found at www.nps.gov/alaska.
America’s Best Idea:
A Palmer speaker noted the Ken Burns public television documentary “America’s Best Idea” and said it should be part of our action plan, providing tools to help guide people’s passion for parks.
The NPS worked closely with Burns on the film. The Call to Action also identifies areas where we should be updating our multi-media presentations and web-based interaction with the public. We are working emphasize volunteer opportunities and connect better with media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Public meeting participants suggested looking at the model of Denali NP and the Murie Science and Learning Center (www.nps.gov/rlc/murie) and others doing place-based education, extending that to other locations, and including in the environmental education curriculum the value of wilderness conservation and limited access.
We agree that the MSLC does valuable work. We also work with Alaska Geographic, the MSLC’s parent organization, to extend education efforts around the state. In Denali and other parks, many concessioners run programs with significant education components. One example is the Wrangell Mountains Center (www.wrangells.org) in Wrangell-St. Elias NP.
Preserving America's Special Places
Many attendees at the open houses discussed how the National Park Service has responded to actions by the State of Alaska in regards to hunting and trapping regulations applied to national preserves and to areas immediately outside NPS-managed areas.
In Anchorage, many speakers voiced the view that the NPS should do more to protect wildlife within its boundaries, and look for ways to support greater wildlife protection in areas adjacent to parks and preserves.
In Fairbanks and Palmer, wildlife management was also a topic of significant discussion, with most participants voicing the view that the NPS should leave wildlife management decisions to the State of Alaska, particularly in national preserves and areas outside the federal boundary.
NPS Response: In some cases the NPS has moved to use its annual park superintendent’s compendium process to put in place temporary restrictions which limit the effect of Alaska Board of Game actions. Those actions have, over the past few years, generally liberalized the taking of predators (wolves and bears) in national preserves.
The NPS is considering whether other measures are necessary, in part because the compendium is not meant to be a vehicle for permanent regulations. The NPS has regularly provided testimony to the Alaska Board of Game regarding wildlife issues, including proposals focused on the reduction of predator populations.
Denali Wolf Buffer:
Particularly in the Anchorage and Juneau meetings, attendees raised the issue of wolf buffers at Denali National Park and the 2011 action by the State Board of Game to eliminate the buffer. In the Fairbanks meeting, there was support for the Board action and an assertion that fewer wolves in the area would boost the population of moose and in turn bring more visitation to the park. Others, mainly in Anchorage and Juneau, suggested that visitation would drop if the chance of seeing a wolf along the park road declined.
NPS Response: The NPS recognizes that the State of Alaska manages wildlife outside of Denali, including the townships just west of Healy. In the case of Denali wolves, there is no threat to the overall population of wolves. Instead, the management decisions by the state reflect mandates set by the Alaska Legislature and the Governor. NPS tracking data indicates that wolves most frequently seen by park visitors are also those most likely to leave the national park and enter state lands where they are available for harvest. A NPS proposal to expand the area closed to the taking of wolves was rejected by the Alaska Board of Game, and a longer-standing buffer zone was eliminated. The NPS is collecting data on how often visitors along the park road see wolves to better understand the correlation between harvest and viewing.
Several commenters, particularly in Fairbanks and Palmer, spoke in opposition to the NPS enforcement of federal regulations on navigable waters within NPS areas (such as the Yukon River within Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve).
NPS Response: This issue is now before the United States District Court in Alaska with two separate cases. The Department of Justice is defending the National Park Service’s longtime practice. The most recent ruling, from a federal magistrate in Fairbanks, confirmed the NPS authority to enforce regulations in the circumstances presented in that case.