- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - In a sure sign of spring, and a perk to those living in Alaska, the only road into Denali National Park and Preserve was opened Friday to Mile 30.

Officials say weather permitting, the road will remain open to that mile marker until May 20, when tour buses begin running for the summer. After that date, normal rules will apply, meaning the road will be closed to private vehicular traffic at Mile 15.

In all, crews - aided by warm weather this spring - have cleared snow and ice off about two-thirds of the 92-mile road into the 6 million acre park located about 100 miles south of Fairbanks.

Officials said that snow on the road hasn’t been as deep this year, but crews are still running into drifts up to 16 feet deep. Authorities also said the biggest challenge this year has been removing an ice layer that formed during a January thaw.

“Snow drifts, while smaller than in years past, were still present in their normal locations and take a bit of care when removing because of the ice lens beneath, to avoid damaging the road,” according to a web posting from the park service on Thursday.

Those driving to Mile 30 can park at the Teklanika Rest Area, and then hike or bike on the road past that point. Officials warn, however, that warmer temperatures are making for variable conditions for winter recreational activities like cross-county skiing and snowshoeing.

Road crews have reported seeing caribou, Dall sheep, fox, golden eagles, ptarmigan and ravens so far this spring, but no bears yet. Crews also saw a wolverine near Mile 48 on Wednesday, and the first ground squirrel of the season was spotted Sunday near Mile 58.

People are encouraged to call Denali National Park at 907-683-9532 to check road and weather conditions before driving into the park. Road clearing progress can be viewed at this website: www.nps.gov/dena/spring-road-opening.htm.

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