- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska — Visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve often are awe-struck by North America’s highest mountain, standing majestically in the Alaskan interior. The park’s new visitors center sends a different message: Even a mountain as big as Mount McKinley does not stand alone.

“Denali’s borders exist only on maps,” one exhibit reads, while another counsels: “Denali depends on us.”

“The point of all this is that what people do outside the park can affect the park,” says Carol Harding, the park’s interpretive planner.

Miss Harding points to one display that mentions air pollution from Russia and mercury, DDT and PCBs being found in the park’s Wonder Lake. Another display mentions the problem of human-generated noise drowning out natural sounds.

Denali National Park expects about 400,000 visitors this year, with most of them arriving in June, July and August. Greeting them will be the Denali Visitor Center, which opened for its first full season of visitors on May 15.

Inside the 14,000-square-foot building are a stunning 20-by-70-foot acrylic mural on a curved wall showing 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, a moose with a 62-inch antler spread made from epoxy resin, and a 12-foot-diameter model of the 6-million-acre park about 275 miles north of Anchorage.

Displays also include a representation of pioneer miner Fannie Quigley’s cabin. She and her husband moved into the Kantishna mining area in the early 1900s. She died alone in 1944 at age 74 after refusing to leave the park when her husband was injured in a mining accident and left Alaska.

The Quigley display includes her recipe for making blueberry pie — starting with getting bear fat for the crust by killing a bear and hauling it back in pieces in a backpack. The pie also required a 125-mile trip to Nenana by dog sled for sugar.

Another exhibit, a “What Use Is a Moose” wooden puzzle, is popular with children. Pull off the antlers and learn that they are good for making spoons. Pull off the nose and find out it is considered tasty either boiled or roasted. The moose’s brain is useful for tanning hides.

No matter what is displayed inside, park engineer and project manager Joe Durrenberger says, the visitors center had to be environmentally friendly, and the environmental concerns were evident from the beginning.

In spring 2002, a machine was brought in to peel off the top layer of trees and dirt from the 3-acre site. The material was then ground up and mixed to make 4,000 yards of topsoil used to landscape the site.

The building’s design incorporated renewable wood products and locally produced materials such as Alaska white spruce logs and Alaska birch for the trim. Wall panels were made from wheat board, a product derived from wheat hulls. Beams were made from compressed scraps and glue obtained from a plywood mill near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Energy was a big issue. “A big building like this tends to be a big energy hog,” Mr. Durrenberger says.

The goal was to have solar panels and innovative heating and cooling systems that would make the center self-sufficient for energy, but budget constraints prevented solar panels from being installed on the roof.

The solar panels that were installed — about one-third the number originally planned for the building — are in the windows and generate about 5 percent of the building’s energy needs, Mr. Durrenberger says.

The 300 square feet of solar panels, which lend the windows an interesting geometric design, provide 3.5 kilowatts of power when operating at 100 percent capacity. Solar tubes from the roof direct sunlight down a mirrored tube that acts like a light fixture in the building’s ceiling.

“You look up there, and you see what looks like a fluorescent light but really is sunlight being reflected down from the roof,” Mr. Durrenberger said.

Cool air is pulled from outside, and four fans circulate the air during the summer months.

A huge concrete chimney acts as a thermal mass to stabilize the building’s temperatures. In cooler months, heat from a propane fireplace rises through steel baffles that transfer the heat to the concrete. A vent at the top of the chimney and the paddle fans are used to pull the hot air toward the cooler air near the floor.

A 280-seat theater incorporates natural light but also has compact fluorescent lights and LED (light emitting diode) lighting when needed. “It doesn’t take a lot of light to find your seat,” Mr. Durrenberger said.

Forty-degree water is piped through plastic tubing that is warmed 10 degrees in the chimney and then sent to the restrooms, which have low-water-consumption fixtures. The same 40-degree water is used to cool the air supplied to the theater on a hot summer day.

The building was opened on a limited basis last summer; this will be the first year in which it will be open all season long. It was built on the old park hotel site near the train depot for a reason. A trail leads from the depot to the center.

• • •

Denali National Park and Preserve: Go to www.nps.gov/

dena or call 907/683-2294.

The Tundra Wilderness Tour by bus takes six to eight hours, and the Denali Natural History Tour takes about five hours. Both provide informal interpretive programs and come with a snack or box lunch and hot drinks. Wheelchair-accessible buses are available. Go to www.nps.gov/dena and click on Bus Services.

The park has trails for those who want a leisurely walk and those who want to climb a mountain. Visitors can hike unaccompanied or take walks led by park rangers. At www.nps.gov/dena, click on Activities, then More, then Day Hiking.

Visit the park’s sled dogs and watch a dog team do its thing. Demonstrations are held several times a day. At www.nps.gov/dena, click on Activities and go to Kennels Visit.

Take a sightseeing flight of Mount McKinley and surrounding peaks. Options include landing on a glacier. Air Tour operators fly from Anchorage, Talkeetna, Fairbanks and the Talkeetna area into the park. Go to www.nps.

gov/dena, click on Aviation.

Visit the quirky town of Talkeetna and do some shopping, go fishing or take a jet-boat ride. Float trips also include rafts, kayaking or canoeing. Visit the art galleries. Eat at Cafe Michele’s, where the menu includes baked brie with roasted garlic, Alaska salmon and halibut and puff-pastry tarts. Go to www.roadtripamerica.com/places/talkeetna.htm.

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