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Denali National Park and Preserve  

Denali National Park and Preserve

The towering granite spires and snowy summits of Denali National Park and Preserve straddles 160 miles of the Alaska Range and display so much elevation they are often lost in the clouds. Dominating this skyline is North America's highest peak; Mount McKinley standing tall at 20,237 feet and one of the most amazing sights in Alaska.

But it's not just the mountain that makes Denali National Park a special place. The park is also home to 37 species of mammals, ranging from lynx, marmots and Dall sheep, to foxes and snowshoe hares, while 130 different bird species have been spotted here, including the impressive golden eagle. Most visitors, however, want to see four animals in particular: moose, caribou, wolf and everybody's favorite: the brown, or grizzly, bear. Here at Denali, unlike most wilderness areas in the country, you don't have to be a backpacker to see this wildlife - people who never sleep in a tent have excellent once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to get a close look at these magnificent creatures roaming free in their natural habitat.

Not surprisingly then, visitors come here in droves; the park is a popular place, attracting 432,000 visitors annually. Over the years the National Park Service (NPS) has developed unique visitor-management strategies, including closing its only road to most vehicles. As a result Denali National Park is still the great wilderness it was 20 years ago. The entrance has changed, but the park itself hasn't, and a brown bear meandering on a tundra ridge still provides the same quiet thrill as it did when the park first opened in 1917.

Although generations of Athabascans had wandered through what is now the park, the first permanent settlement was established in 1905, when a gold miners' rush gave birth to the town of Kantishna. A year later, naturalist and noted hunter Charles Sheldon was stunned by the beauty of the land and horrified at the reckless abandon of the miners and big-game hunters. Sheldon returned in 1907 and traveled the area with guide Harry Karstens in an effort to set up boundaries for a proposed national park. Sheldon was successful as the area was established as Mount McKinley National Park in 1917 with Karstens serving as the park's first superintendent. As a result of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the park was enlarged to more than 6 million acres and renamed Denali National Park and Preserve. Denali now comprises an area slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts and is generally ranked as one of Alaska's top attractions.

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