Denali 100: Stories of the People

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In 2017, Denali National Park and Preserve celebrated its Centennial. During Labor Day weekend, StoryCorps came to the Park and facilitated interviews with longtime area residents and current and former employees. The recordings capture different perspectives on Denali and what the Park means to people closely connected to it.
two men posing for a photo outside
Mike Alexia (left) and Erik Johnson (right)

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Mike Alexia and Erik Johnson

Mike Alexia is Athabascan and was born and raised near the western boundary of Denali National Park. Mike is one of only a few Upper Kuskokwim language speakers remaining. He tells historian Erik Johnson about life far away from the road system, and offers several phrases in his native language.

“There were no stores back then. We lived off the land mostly. Caught fish in the summer, hunt moose and sheep and caribou in the fall. We learned how to process what you catch and don’t throw anything away.”

—Mike Alexia
two young women posing for a photo
Ana Brease (left) and Ellen Devine (right)

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Ana Brease and Ellen Devine

Ana Brease grew up in Denali as a daughter of two park employees. In a conversation with her friend, Ellen Devine, she shares what it is like to grow up in Denali. She discusses wildlife encounters, meeting different types of professionals, and the magic of the winter season. She also reflects on eventually becoming a Denali park ranger herself.

“We didn’t have a lot of toys, there weren’t a lot of material items so we played in the woods all the time. Climbed trees—did everything we could outside.”

—Ana Brease

a man and young woman posing for a photo
Vernon (right) and Kiana Carlson

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Vernon and Kiana Carlson

Longtime Cantwell resident Vernon Carlson speaks to his daughter about how his lifestyle was negatively affected by park expansion. After ANILCA [Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act] was passed in 1980, many local Alaskans felt they lost a way of life, this includes Vernon.

“Anybody that had any sort of angst about the park expansion would have been there and my family had the angst because we’re like, ‘we’re not going to be able to hunt back here anymore.’”

—Vern Carlson

Man and teenage boy posing together for a photo
Land (right) and Oliver Cole

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Land and Oliver Cole

Long-time resident and Denali employee Land Cole speaks to his son Oliver about growing up in the area. They discuss a wildlife encounter, Land’s work as a Special Projects Lead, and the change Land has seen in his lifetime.

“[The park entrance sign is] something that hundreds of thousands of people take their picture in front of, so when I pull in the park entrance to work or I’m leaving and there’s people out there taking pictures of the sign—that’s kind of neat. Makes me feel pretty good.”

— Land Cole
two women posing for a photo
Clare Curtis (right) and Jori Welchans

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Clare Curtis was a long time Denali employee and became a mentor to many, including Jori Welchans. Welchans talks to Curtis about the challenges she faced as an employee at Denali and about the change she saw over the years.

“Keep it as that sanctuary where people can come in and get away from human-caused chaos and can understand the natural chaos.”

— Clare Curtis

a man and woman posing for a photo in a forest
Tim & Nancy Russell

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Tim and Nancy Russell

Longtime Denali employees/area-residents Nancy and Tim Russell discuss how the Park’s allure kept them in the area much longer than they originally anticipated. The couple talks about learning to live in this remote area. Nancy reflects on important lessons from her old boss about National Park standards, the changing values of Denali visitors, and shares a story of helping to evacuate Kantishna after a surprise season-end snow storm.

“I came here from upstate New York and I planned to work here for four months and ended up falling in love with the place and I didn’t leave.”

—Nancy Russell

two men posing for a photo in front of aspen trees
Dave Schirokauer (right) and Charlie Loeb

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Dave Schirokauer and Charlie Loeb

Denali National Park’s Chief of Resources Dave Schirokauer shares some stories with longtime friend and former Denali employee Charlie Loeb. Schirokauer discusses one of the most memorable and influential trips of his life that involved mushing 85 miles with Denali’s sled dogs. He also ties in the park’s historic use of sled dogs going all the way back to the park’s first Superintendent Harry Karstens.

“It's really remarkable that that is still happening a hundred years later here in Denali National Park. I mean, Harry Karstens and the kennels staff back in those days might've been packing different food, but really the operation is basically exactly the same”

—Dave Schirokauer

two men posing for a photo
Charlie Sheldon (right) and Willie Karidis

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Charlie Sheldon and Willie Karidis

Charlie Sheldon is the grandson of the person credited with Denali National Park and Preserve’s creation, Charles Sheldon. Charlie, Willie Karidis, and Charlie’s son, Oscar Sheldon, spent the last few days of August 2017 retracing Charles Sheldon’s footsteps. In this conversation, Charlie and Willie reflect on their trip into the Denali Wilderness and the legacy of Charles Sheldon.

“The fact that Sheldon, my grandfather, had the vision 110 years ago to set aside some of this country—I mean it was just amazing. The power of that vision and that beauty just really came home to me. It was a trip of a lifetime.”

—Charlie Sheldon

man and woman posing for a photo
Gretchen and Don Striker

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Don and Gretchen Striker

Park Superintendent Don Striker and his wife Gretchen discuss the things that make Denali special. Don shares being awestruck at Wonder Lake; Gretchen talks about how special it is to share the park with new guests. They both talk about how special Denali is during different times of the year. Don also talks about the challenges of connecting with neighbors and how he wants to bridge the divide that exists.

“You know, the first time I saw the mountain I almost cried—it’s so magical.”

—Don Striker
two women posing for a photo
Jane Bryant (left) and Denise Taylor

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Jane Bryant and Denise Taylor

Working in a remote Interior Alaska makes it difficult for Denali employees and local communities to get fresh produce. For 21 years, Denise Taylor provided a fresh fruit delivery service to the area and in doing so created lots of fond memories for community members. Denise and her long-time friend Jane Bryant reminisce about Denali’s “Fruit Lady.”

“If you wanted to know what was going on in the community, you would ask the Fruit Lady.”

—Jane Bryant

Last updated: April 11, 2018

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