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Changes to come at Denali National Park this summer

Last Updated Apr 21, 2018 at 8:40 am PDT

The Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali National Park, Alaska, shown here Dec. 20, 2017, will not be open to the public this summer, one of many changes designed to make it easier for visitors to find their way around the front country. More than 400,000 people visit Denali National Park every year, primarily during the summer season. (Kris Capps/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP)

DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska – Visitors may notice some changes at Denali National Park this summer season. It’s an attempt to streamline and help visitors find their way around the front country more easily.

One-time visitors on package tours are not likely to notice any changes, but frequent visitors and independent travellers who have been preplanning on their own will discover a few things are different. Denali National Park lead interpreter Nancy Holman said the changes should actually provide a more effective and efficient visit for those independent travellers.

More than 400,000 people visit Denali National Park every year, primarily during the summer season.

These changes are the result of park administration anticipating a federal budget cut and not knowing what the actual budget would be, until recently. So park managers planned for ways to streamline and consolidate while still providing a quality experience for visitors. That meant examining staffing and hours of operation for all facilities and targeting where services might be duplicated.

Although the final budget numbers ended up being about the same as last year, the changes will result in more efficiency for everyone, according to Miriam Valentine, chief of external affairs for the park.

“These are areas we’ve wanted to improve for a long time,” she said. “It’s kind of business as usual, but really more efficient.”

The review was a “really good healthy exercise” that helped park staff focus on what is most important to visitors, Denali Superintendent Don Striker said. These kinds of reviews are happening nationwide, he said.

It also occurs at a time when Denali needs to provide visitor services during expanded shoulder seasons and the expanding winter season.

Here are some of the notable changes:

– The Murie Science and Learning Center will not be open to the public this summer as a second visitor centre. It will continue to be used, as originally intended, as a headquarters for research and education. The public summer speaker series will still be held in classrooms there, but exhibits such as the wolf skeleton and the dinosaur tracks discovered in the park may be moved to another location. Alaska Geographic groups and individuals who enrol in seminars and field workshops will continue to use the centre.

– Staff who greeted visitors at the Science and Learning Center will now greet visitors at the Denali Visitor Center instead.

“It puts us all in one space,” Holman said.

– The Backcountry Information Center, which was located adjacent to the Wilderness Access Center, will close and backcountry permits will now be picked up at the visitor centre. To accommodate that new influx of foot traffic, the centre will open one hour earlier, at 8 a.m. That is also where backcountry travellers will go through required orientation and watch the film “Hiking the Denali Backcountry” on the half-hour. The regular introductory film, “Heartbeats of Denali,” will continue to be shown to visitors every hour.

Another program that has been in the works for some time is being implemented to make things easier for visitors. The Wilderness Access Center, where visitors pick up tickets and board buses, will now be known as the Denali Bus Depot. The project to clarify building names and update signage is ongoing.

“Some facilities have names that don’t make sense anymore,” Holman said. “It’s a complete redo of finding our way around the front country of the park. We are just really responding to having watched visitors struggle with navigating and asking, ‘How can we help them?'”

It may take more than one season, but new directional signs will eventually be posted throughout the front country to help visitors find their way. Those signs will also eventually mark trailheads and bus stops.

Every season, the park provides the newsletter The Alpenglow, filled with information about the park and schedules for activities. But it appears visitors primarily just used the maps and information on basic services.

So now, instead of a 15-page newsletter, visitors can grab one-page fold-out pamphlets with basic information: a summer guide, an outdoor activity guide and a winter guide. Those are expected to be available sometime next week.

Visitors should check the Denali National Park website regularly for updates and check with the Denali Visitor Center for current schedules of activities. The Denali Visitor Center opens May 15, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com