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Contact: Lynn McAloon, (907) 683-6381Park staff have closed the Denali Park Road to all traffic at mile 67 just west of the Eielson Visitor Center. The closure is due to a large mudslide that occurred yesterday morning and has covered the area in a debris flow that currently measures 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The road is completely impassable at this time but the park’s road crew members have been working around the clock to clear the debris and hope to have at least one lane of travel open soon.
The park road has experienced several landslides and debris flows this summer due to record wet conditions. However, this event is by far the largest and most challenging to resolve.
Early yesterday the park’s communication center was advised of the slide and park rangers, geologists, and park equipment operators were dispatched to the scene.
Weather data, collected from a RAWS weather station in the area shows that Eielson Visitor Center had received over 6 inches of rain in the past week. The day before the event the area received an additional 1.69 inches. The mudslide can be attributed to sustained saturation of soils, the fine-grain nature of the ancient volcanic ash found in the area, and slope topography. Although the area has been known to deposit small amounts of material before, no one on the park staff is aware of a preceding event of this size.
Guests and employees at private lodges in Kantishna and some park employees are currently marooned at the western end of the park road, but all are safe and accounted for. Some guests have chosen to be flown out by a private air taxi that operates in the area. Phone communications are limited to the lodges, and there is no cell phone coverage in the area, therefore anyone expecting to hear from parties staying in the Wonder Lake or Kantishna areas may not get word until traffic resumes. Flooding has not been reported in the vicinity, and the airstrip remains open.
According to Dave Schirokauer, Resources and Science Team Leader for Denali National Park, events such as these could become more common. “Although no single event can be attributable to climate change, events such as these are consistent with current modeling for Interior Alaska where there is an expectation of increased precipitation throughout the region.”