Denali National Park closes road halfway for remainder of season due to ongoing landslide

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Through Tess williams

Updated: August 25, 2021 Posted: 25 Aug 2021

A significant portion of Denali Park Road closed for the remainder of the season on Tuesday because a landslide caused dangerous driving conditions, the National Park Service said in a statement.

The 92 mile Denali Park Road is the only way to get to the 4.7 million acre park. The landslide that continues at Col Polychrome, near Mile 42, has led to the rapid deterioration of the road in recent years, raising concerns about how to maintain the road while welcoming visitors safely.

“Climate change is thawing frozen ground, resulting in unpredictable and increasing landslide rates at Pretty Rocks, unprecedented in the history of the park road. We cannot safely keep up with the accelerated pace of landslide movement caused by thawing permafrost that is currently occurring in association with the Pretty Rocks landslide, ”said Don Striker, Superintendent of Denali, in the communicated.

Denali Park Road normally closes after Teklanika Rest Area at Mile 30 in mid-September.

After Tuesday, westbound traffic beyond kilometer 43 will only be permitted for essential purposes, such as facilitating the seasonal closure of west park operations, the parks service said.

The closure will impact Wonder Lake Campground near Mile 89 and the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66, the park service said.

About 84 people camping or accessing the hinterland west of the closure on Tuesday will be relocated in the coming days, park spokesman Paul Ollig said. People at Wonder Lake Campground are moved by park transit buses Tuesday and Wednesday and backcountry users will be picked up by park RV buses when they return to the road over the next few days, he said.

Visitors are not blocked, said Ollig.

“Some visitors are being moved to campgrounds east of Polychrome, where space is available, and others are simply choosing to shorten their trips,” he said via email.

The park service said RV buses will not be able to accommodate backcountry trips beyond Mile 42, effective now. Park tour and transit buses will continue to travel, but will stop and turn around at Mile 42.

The Denali Visitor Center, frontcountry trails and backcountry access remain open, as well as the Kantishna airstrip, located near the end of the road.

The Pretty Rocks landslide is located around mile 45 of the highway and has required increased maintenance in recent years as it is changing rapidly due to climate change, the park service said.

[Crews reopen Denali Park Road after mudslides, water damage; stranded tourists leave]

In 2018, the landslide was causing the pavement to collapse nearly half an inch per day and by August of last year it had grown to 3.5 inches per day, the park service said.

“The rains in early August in 2021 appear to have triggered a significant increase in the rate, with much of the landslide currently moving at more than ten inches per day,” the statement said.

The parks department’s 2022 budget request includes funding for a construction project at Polychrome Pass to maintain access, the statement said. The project is in the planning and design stage and the park department has said construction will not begin until at least 2023.

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