Park Road and Early Entrance
Until 1932, the boundary of Mount McKinley National Park lay a few miles to the west of here. This clearing was part of the original road that led to the park. Nearby, a rustic log arch spanned the Park Road, serving for many years as the park’s iconic gateway.
Upon its completion in 1938, the Park Road led 92 miles from the railroad depot to the Kantishna Mining District, just outside the park boundary at that time. Much of it was cut by hand by teams of laborers, inching west, at a finished cost around $1.3 million.
Many of the workers employed on the road project were men in their forties and fifties, some even older. By today’s standards, pick and shovel work seems the province of younger men, but back then many of these laborers were former miners and prospectors, inured to long hours and hard work. In the days before lightweight chainsaws and powerful earthmovers, the road project rang with the sound of axes and handsaws, the clang of shovel and pick, the clop of horses, and the sputtering of under-powered machinery.
Road construction began in 1924. By mid-May, two crews of 85 to 90 men were actively clearing and improving the road in sections. By autumn 1924, automobiles could jolt their way west over the first nine miles of road, with horses or wagons needed to complete the journey to Savage River at Mile 15. Out of the 200 tourists who stopped at the depot that year, only 50 went into the park.
Construction camps were established at intervals along the right-of-way, the first one just one and a half miles from the depot. Workers lived in wall tents with wooden floors, Army-surplus cots, and coal or wood stoves. A large tent served as a cook shack and mess hall, with experienced cooks preparing meals.
Each camp housed a total of 15 to 20 workers. Trucks delivered supplies and mail once a week. Crews worked 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with the work season extending from early spring until mid-September. Most workers spent the summer in camp, leaving only when autumn weather ended the work season. Those that wintered at McKinley Station ran traplines, hunted, and cut firewood for pay or barter.
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.