South Denali Development Planning has a long history that is culminating with the selection of the Curry Ridge area for a visitor center complex. The stated goals for this development are for expanded visitor facilities and recreational opportunities in the South Denali region, while protecting the cultural and natural resource values of the area, and preserving quality of life for residents in nearby communities.
The reality of the Curry Ridge site is a spectacular location and potential experience for residents and tourists alike. The world-class visitor center and carefully aligned trails will facilitate natural and cultural learning experiences coupled with self-selected physical exercise. It is easy to be awed by the visual splendor surrounding the selected site near Lake 1787.
The vision for the visitor center complex captures the essence of the desired experience:
“The South Denali Visitor Center will be a sustainable learning and recreation gateway, providing a welcoming and accessible interpretive transition for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. The visitor center, trails, and viewing areas will be unimposing and harmoniously nestled within the surrounding landscape, furnishing venues for education, study, and wildlife and scenic viewing.... This year-round gathering place will enable visitors to experience migrating and resident wildlife, breathtaking views of Denali and the Alaska Range, and Alaskan nights painted with sheets of dancing aurora. Visitors will come to experience and stay to enjoy.”
The South Denali Visitor Complex is a gateway to the Alaska outdoors. Visitors who have meaningful experiences at the site will take home not only fond memories, but also a deeper intellectual and emotional understanding of the region. Effective planning of the site and facilities based on interpretation have a positive effect on visitors, garnering future support of the agencies and organizations that manage Alaska’s natural resources.
Intimate outdoor experiences are powerful. People remember the fleeting sight of an animal that they encountered and discovered on their own more than one pointed out to them on a tour bus.
They remember the warm feel of the sun as it appears from behind a cloud and the caress of wind that blows constantly over the high reaches of Curry Ridge a contrast to the climate controlled restaurants and lodging. They remember the adventurous journey around an alpine lake, hearing loons call and seeing the landscape reflected in the mirror-like water a personal experience more powerful than an audio-visual presentation. The subtle serendipitous and dynamic events of Alaska’s wilderness are missed by many visitors, who experience the “natural world” through the glass of a bus window, a train observation car, or the deck of a ship.
The South Denali Visitor Center should grow from its surroundings and synthesize rustic building practices with today’s needs and technology. Native and vernacular materials should be used when feasible but even when other materials are utilized, they should harmonize with the surroundings, be durable, consume less energy, and invite visitation. The visitor center will serve as a gateway and hub to the real experience out on the site, concentrating intense visitor use within a limited area. This portal will serve as a filter that buffers onsite use of the area. It will provide for visitors’ physical comforts and needs, orient them, and prepare people to experience the spirit of this place.
In addition, hundreds of jobs could be created by this development with many millions of dollars generated locally. The State of Alaska obligated $8.9 million dollars to the project in 2008. Federal and private funding will complete the $30 million dollar project. Currently the access road to the site is being designed. The State of Alaska developed and maintains a web page for the project at southdenali.alaska.gov. Please take the time to stay updated on the South Denali Visitor Center Complex by visiting this page. We appreciate the public’s constructive involvement in the development of their visitor center.
Years from now I hope to be able to take my friends and family to the South Denali Visitor Center and proudly share the significance of this accessible gateway to Denali State Park and beyond.
James King is the Director of the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
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