Murkowski thanks Obama for restoring Denali; Obama directs his gaze on climate change

President Barack Obama touches down in Alaska Monday for a three-day tour to the state, and beyond focusing on climate change in visits to Anchorage, Dillingham, and Kotzebue, the president is beginning his trip by restoring the Alaska Native name to North America’s highest mountain.

An official White House release states President Obama will announce the federal government is officially returning Mount McKinley to it’s Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali. The White House noted the designation “recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski, in a video posted on YouTube Sunday, thanked the president for the long-sought change.

“For generations Alaskans have know this majestic mountain as The Great One,” Murkowski’s video message begins. “Today we’re honored to be able to officially recognize the mountain as Denali. I’d like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect, and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska.”

Beyond Denali, Obama’s Alaska itinerary focuses on climate change. It’s a topic he’ll discuss at the GLACIER conference in Anchorage, an acronym for the international meeting on global leadership in the Arctic. He also plans to discuss an initiative assessing relocation needs of more than 30 Alaska Native communities due to the changing climate and rising sea levels. The effort will be led by the Denali Commission, an independent federal agency, with Senator Murkowski at the helm.

In a video released by the White House on Friday, Obama turned the national spotlight on those Alaska communities.

“A lot of these conversations begin with climate change,” the president said, “and that’s because Alaskans are already living with its effects. Some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world—in some places more than three feet a year. This is happening to our fellow Americans right now. In fact, Alaska’s governor recently told me four villages are in imminent danger and have to be relocated. Already rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community. Think about that. If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat, right now. Because what’s happening in Alaska is happening to us, its our wake-up call.”

On Wednesday, Obama will head to western Alaska, spending the morning in Dillingham and finishing his trip in Kotzebue. Many in western Alaska have wondered about the impacts the president’s visit will have on the vital air transportation and freight so many rural residents rely on.

Like Anchorage, the Federal Aviation Administration is implementing Temporary Flight Restrictions in both Kotzebue andDillingham. In each case, the TFR will consist of an inner 10-mile ring of heavily restricted airspace, and an outer ring of less restricted but still limited flying to 30 miles out. Airmen are urged to check the TFRs for updates and specific information.

The FAA notes all aircraft within 10 miles of Kotzebue will be prohibited to only law enforcement and military flights Wednesday between 4:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., but those times are expected to fluctuate.

As all eyes move to Kotzebue for Obama’s trip—the first time a sitting U.S. president will travel above the Arctic Circle—the president’s schedule has him on the ground for just a few hours, delivering remarks at the community school.

But the trip has left many in Nome—which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers picked as the leading candidate for a deep-draft Arctic port—wondering why the potentially strategic harbor isn’t seeing a presidential visit.

White House Senior Advisor Brian Deese told a conference call of reporters last week that the president’s agenda is simply too full.

“If we had more time and more space the president would love to visit more of the state,” Deese said. “Lots of things going on in Nome, including the Army Corps’ exploratory work that’s ongoing. This is a packed trip, he is using every minute of his time to try see as much as he can, but we can only get in so much.”

The White House says Air Force One will take off from Kotzebue Wednesday evening—ushering President Obama out of Alaska.

Matthew Smith is a reporter at KNOM in Nome.

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