Road Ecology Program: Protecting Resources and Values Along the Park Road
For over seventy years, the Denali Park Road has provided the primary access to Denali National Park and Preserve, facilitating wilderness recreational opportunities and supporting a sense of discovery, adventure, and a connection with nature.The Vehicle Management Plan (2012) is a tool that park managers use to ensure there is a balance between the demand for visitor opportunities to tour the road with the need to ensure that park resources are protected and visitors continue to have a safe, high-quality experience.
Photo Credits: Top, Larson; Bottom, Karpilo
Beginning in 1972 with the opening of the George Parks Highway, park managers have been challenged to balance the growing demand for visitor opportunities to tour the road with the need to ensure that park resources are protected and visitors continue to have a safe, high-quality experience.
In 1972, a special park regulation was put in place to restrict private vehicle travel beyond the Savage River and to institute a public transportation system. In 1986, managers set an annual limit of 10,512 vehicle trips (from the Saturday before Memorial Day to the second Thursday after Labor Day or September 15, whichever comes first).
For more on history of the park road, browse the Crown Jewel of the North (a park history in chapters)
NPS Photo by Jeff Hallo
Park managers initiated a comprehensive study (2006-2012) to identify how much traffic could be accommodated on the park road while protecting park resources and visitor experience.
The three primary components of the road study were designed to determine:
(1) if vehicle traffic had an impact on wildlife movements and sightings from the road,
Learn more about the Denali Park Road Capacity Study 2006 - 2012
Developing Indicators and Standards
Results from the road capacity study were used to select seven indicators of desired resource and visitor experience conditions.
Three of the indicators restrict the amount and timing of vehicle traffic to protect wildlife:
Three indicators set limits on vehicle crowding based on results of the visitor surveys:
Results were also used to set quantitative standards for each indicator to ensure that desired conditions are maintained. Meeting the standards means success in managing the park road for its natural ecology and visitor experience.
Download the Table of Indicators and Standards
Wildlife Viewing Subzones
Three wildlife viewing subzones were identified based visitor expectations for traffic conditions (see map below). The subzones are subject to different standards (subzone 1 is expected to have the most vehicle traffic and subzone 3 the least traffic).
Denali Park Road Vehicle Management Plan
The Denali Park Road Final Vehicle Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (VMP) was finalized and the Record of Decision signed by the Alaska NPS Regional Director in September 2012.
Implementation of the VMP is occurring in stages. During 2013-2015, park staff will develop the specific methods for implementing and reporting. Monitoring results will be reported to the public on an annual basis. Full implementation will occur when a new concessions contract to operate the park's public transportation system is in place and the special park regulations—to change the vehicle limit from 10,512 per year to 160 per day—are updated in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.
As park managers adjust traffic schedules to maximize access (daily number of vehicles), staff will monitor along the park road to ensure that Indicators do not exceed their standards. The strategy includes:
(1) monitoring the indicators and standards,
The VMP will guide management of vehicle traffic during the bus operating season for the next 15-20 years. Monitoring the indicators will help ensure the protection of the special character of the park road.
Did You Know?
Warmer average temperatures over several decades have resulted in expansion of woody vegetation. If this warming trend continues, it will change Alaska's ecosystems and drastically alter the physical appearance of Denali's landscape, as treeline marches higher up the mountains.