Accessibility and Wildness

As noted in previous posts, the Northern Passages blog has been largely taking the summer off, while continuing to make occasional posts on the Northern Passages Facebook Page and other social media.  Here is a Facebook post inspired by a 5-day trip that my wife and I recently made to Denali National Park, where we saw lots of caribou, some bears, a moose, and occasional appearances by Denali itself, the High One. 


Our national parks occupy many niches across the spectrum of accessibility and wildness.  Yellowstone, for example, has incredible geothermal features and charismatic megafauna, but is interlaced with roadways, hotels and other improvements.  The Gates of the Arctic, which is my personal favorite of those I have visited so far, has essentially no infrastructure, only a handful of visitors (despite being our second-largest park), and rates very high on the wildness scale.

Denali National Park (the 3d-largest, after Wrangell-St. Elias and the Gates), is somewhere perhaps in the middle. It receives about 400,000 visitors a year, but they are largely channeled along one roadway and in bus transits that keep their impact on the animals and viewsheds within reasonable limits.  These arrangements are a compromise, and one that has evolved somewhat over the life of the park since is creation in 1917, but I find them quite satisfactory overall.

I wouldn’t want every park to strike the same balance.  Some should be pristine and wild – untrammeled by man, in the famous phrase from the Wilderness Act.  Others should be accessible to broad swaths of citizens around the country.  Some should fall in between these poles, as Denali National Park clearly does.  There is richness in this diversity.