Road Ecology Program

a bus of visitors watches a caribou
For many visitors coming to Denali, a major part of their experience is watching wildlife along the Denali park road. But how the wildlife, visitors, and the Park Road interact is a specialized science called the Denali Road Ecology Program.

NPS Photo / Kent Miller

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.

Jump to: Development of Indicators and Standards | Denali Park Road Vehicle Management Plan

Interested in more information? Check out the Science and Scholarship Resources page to find more recommended resources about road ecology and other research topics from the park.

historic photo of two people stand next to a car on the Denali Park Road

History of the Park Road

From the 1920's to the present the Denali Park Road has been an important method of connecting visitors with their National Park.

a bus comes around a mountainside on a winding dirt road

Park Road Capacity Study

Learn more about a study that Denali designed to optimize visitor experience along the park road while protecting wildlife.

Hikers waiting for a bus
How long have these hikers waited for a bus?

NPS Photo

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:
(1) hourly 10-minute gaps in traffic at five sheep crossings,
(2) an hourly limit to night-time (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) traffic, and
(3) an hourly limit to large (>80,000 gross lbs) vehicles

Three indicators set limits on vehicle crowding based on results of the visitor surveys:
(4) the number of vehicles at a stop to view wildlife,
(5) the number of vehicles parked at rest stops, and
(6) the number of vehicles visible in four iconic viewscapes.

The final indicator reflects the effectiveness of the transportation system:
(7) amount of time a hiker waits to catch an eastbound bus.

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).
Map of park road showing colors that signify wildlife viewing subzones and indicator locations
Image of Vehicle Management Plan's cover
Here's the result of more than six years of scientific study and four years of planning, analysis, and public input.

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,
(2) detecting changes in wildlife sightings from the park road,
(3) assessing changes in wildlife populations, and
(4) comparing conditions before/after traffic modifications.

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.

Learn more about the Vehicle Management Plan


Road Ecology Science Stories

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