Denali Park road could be closed due to sloughing roadway

These photos show the same area of the Denali Park Road in September and March. Over the winter, a slow-moving landslide pushed a 100-yard stretch of road about six feet downhill, leaving this drop-off behind. (Photos by National Park Service)

The road into Denali National Park could be closed next summer at mile 43, the National Park Service said this week. That’s just east of a where portion of the road traversing a slope, is sloughing. The long problematic section is in the Polychrome Bluffs, at a spot known as “Pretty Rocks”, where warmer temperatures and heavy summer rains have increased melting of permafrost, and caused landslides.

Denali National Park spokesperson G.W. Hitchcock says the 300 foot section of road had slumped 7 feet from grade as of early November.

Related: A stretch of the Denali Park Road sits atop a creeping landslide. And it’s picking up speed.

Hitchcock says the park is looking at getting a road crew to the area in February to begin repairs, while soils are more frozen. Backfilling with gravel has been employed to restore the road grade in past years, but Hitchcock says that’s challenged by the increasing depth of the slump. 

Hitchcock says extent of next summer’s road closures will be unclear until crews begin work at Pretty Rocks, noting it’s just one of numerous places where unstable soils threaten the Park Road. He says longer term solutions, including building bridges, or re-routing the road, are being evaluated.

A ParkService press release says mile 43 mile is a good closure point because there’s room to turn around traffic, including shuttle and tour buses. Road closures at that milepost would cut off vehicle access to points west along the 92 mile Park Road, including the Eielson visitor’s center at mile 66, and Kantishna and Wonder Lake at miles 85 and beyond. 

Hitchcock says the park service is working with people who own property along the road west of the potential closure point, as well as the park bus contractor Doyon Aramark.  

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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