This article contains an extract from the
Courier: The National Park Service Newsletter, Vol 4,
No. 1, January 1981.
Alaska: A New Frontier for NPS
by Candace K. Garry
Public Information Specialist
Office of Public Affairs, WASO
Alaska. The mere mention of it boggles the imagination. Adjectives
cannot describe the scenery, the people, and the culture adequately. It
was a case of "scenic shock" that pervaded my travels through vast
expanses of wilderness while I visited there in late August. Scenic
shock, not unusual among first-time visitors to this awesome State, was
an apt description of my experience while flying over Lake Clark
National Park and driving through Mount McKinley National Park (now
Denali National Park).
There is an element of frustration, trying to condense all of
Alaska into 2 weeks. It can't be done. Also, there is the challenge to
understand, in a short time, how NPS employees in Alaska feel about the
Service's mission and our future there. I spent hours and hours talking
to dozens of people, some new to Alaska, some who had been there for as
long as 32 years. Yet, I only scratched the surface, for there is much
to know and even more to understand.
Many of Alaska's mysteries will unfold in the years to come, as
the Park Service begins its task of managing new NPS areas created by
recently passed Alaska lands legislation. The legislative mandate also
will mean changes for the Park Service in Alaska.
This article highlights what a few Park Service employees in the
Alaska Area Office shared with me during my visit to Anchorage, just 3
months before Alaska lands legislation finally cleared the Congressional
hurdles and was signed by the President. It also highlights what a few
of them have shared with me since, and some of Director Dickenson's
thoughts about the future of NPS in Alaska. COURIER will publish
articles about individual Park Service employees and areas in Alaska, in
Mt. Iliamna, an active volcano, in autumn, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.
After years of complex negotiation and discussion, the National Park
Service's role in Alaska was resolved by the passage of the Alaska Lands
Bill, signed into law by President Carter on Dec. 2.
The legislation supercedes the President's proclamations creating a
series of national monuments in Alaska under the authority of the
Antiquities Act of 1906. President Carter signed the bill 2 years and 1
day from the date he declared the monuments in Alaska.
Under the new law, every Park Service area in Alaska except the two
small national historical parks is affected directly. The three oldest
large Alaska parksGlacier Bay and Katmai National Monuments and
Mount McKinley National Parkhave new boundaries and new status as
national parks, with Mount McKinley assuming the traditional native name
for its dominant peakDenali.
Aerial view of Mount Iliamna in Lake Clark NP.
(Photo by Candace Carry)
Five of the monuments proclaimed in 1978 have also been redesignated
as national parks, two retaining the title of national monuments. Ten
national preserves were created, three encompassing proclaimed
monuments, seven sharing names and boundaries with adjoining national
parks or monuments. The essential difference between the preserves and
the national parks is a provision for public hunting and trapping within
In addition, 13 wild rivers were designated for Park Service
administration, all but one lying entirely within the boundaries of the
newly created parks, monuments, and preserves. The law also establishes
32.4 million acres of wilderness within the Alaska components of the
National Park System.
Few in NPS are more elated about the passage of Alaska lands
legislation than Alaska Regional Director John Cook. He had consistently
entertained only positive thoughts about the outcome of an Alaska lands
bill. He would speak only of when the bill would pass rather than if the
bill would pass. Despite his unyielding optimism, he is "relieved, very
relieved," that there is finally a bill. "Now we have a legislative
mandate and the argument over whether or not the President should have
or should not have used the Antiquities Act is moot," he says.
Director Dickenson characterizes the Park Service role in Alaska as
one of stewardship. "If you look at what stewardship really means, you
will see that it means you preserve, conserve and protect for the use
and enjoyment of someone else." Dickenson adds that he believes it is
important not to "force progress on Alaska" at an accelerated pace. "The
important thing," he says, "is to make sure that the abundance of
resources there is not subjected in any way to abuse that would preempt
choices for future generations."
Dickenson commends the many dedicated Park Service employees who have
tromped the mountains of Alaska, kayaked its winding rivers and flown
over its breathtaking landscapes in search of the best possible
boundaries for Park Service areas. "They have put an awful lot of time
and energy into Alaska from a professional standpoint," he says.
Denali, as seen from Eielson, Denali National Park and Preserve.
(NPS Photo/Tim Rains)
AAO: A REGIONAL OFFICE
Culminating the changes for the Park Service in Alaska, Secretary
Andrus has designated the Alaska Area Office as a full administrative
region of the National Park System, placing it on equal footing with the
nine existing NPS regions. The Secretary's action of Dec. 2, immediately
after the signing of the Alaska legislation, is formal recognition of
the vast responsibilities the new law places on the NPS administrators
Associate Director Bob Peterson and Superintendent for Lake Clark NP Paul Hartel.
(Photo by Candace Carry)
However, formal regional status for the Anchorage office won't mean
major changes early on, according to NPS officials there. They say the
Alaska Area Office has operated much like a regional office for quite
some time. Alaska park areas, which traditionally reported to the
Pacific Northwest Regional Office in Seattle, have coordinated most of
their activities solely with the AAO since it was created. For sometime,
AAO Director John Cook has reported directly to the Director of NPS.
The transition to near-autonomy for the Anchorage office dates back
to an arrangement made when Director Dickenson was Regional Director in
Seattle. Although the Alaska Area Office does have a few remaining ties
with Seattle in administration and payrolling, the office has worked
directly with Washington in science and technology, ranger activities,
legislation, and executive directions. As a result, Cook thinks there
will be "few bumps in the road" as the Alaska Area Office becomes the
Alaska Regional Office. "The real difference is perception, which means
so much to people. There are staff people in Washington and everywhere
who fail to include us in mailings to regional offices." Cook says that
in the past, few recognized the AAO's need for material to meet
deadlines because the office did not have the title of a regional
office, even though the functions were similar. He thinks formal
regional status will help change this. However, he says, the office will
retain administrative ties with Seattle in payrolling and vouchering for
some time. "All along, we've had an excellent relationship with the
Pacific Northwest Regional Office."
Before Alaska lands legislation passed there were 83 permanent,
full-time NPS employees in Alaska, including 40 employees in the
Anchorage office and less than 45 in field areas. Although that figure
swells considerably when summer seasonals are hired, there haven't been
large numbers of Park Service employees in Alaska. The bill provides for
24 positions in the new areas and six new positions in the Mining and
Minerals office in Alaska. Cook says he has already classified and
advertised the positions, which he expects to have filled by the end of
this fiscal year.
The new Alaska Regional Office will continue to adhere to an
organizational plan devised and adopted while Anchorage was still an
area office. Under this plan Cook, Deputy Director Doug Warnock, Public
Information Officer Joan Gidlund, and Special Assistant to the Director
Robert Belous comprise the top level of the organizational pyramid. Park
superintendents also report directly to Cook, as do three associate
directors, charged with a myriad of responsibilities within the
Associate Director for Operations Bob Peterson is responsible for
Ranger Activities & Visitor Services, Maintenance, and Natural
Resources & Science Divisions. Associate Director for Professional
Services Howard Wagner oversees Planning & Environmental Compliance,
Cultural Resources & Compliance, Land and Minerals, and a
Cooperative Park Studies Unit at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
Personnel, Budget & Programming, Finance, and Contracting &
Property Management are all divisions under the direction of Jim
Behrens, associate director for administrative services. Behrens also
has responsibility for a Native Liaison & Recruitment Program
directed by Ellen Hayes, a Southeast Alaska Native and former Sitka
National Historical Park superintendent.
Alpenglow turns an Arrigetch Peak golden, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
DIFFERENCES IN ALASKA FOR NPS
A unique feature of the Alaska lands legislation is the number and
magnitude of preserves in Park Service areas in Alaska. "We're going to
be dealing with such things as sport hunting in those preserves," says
Deputy Regional Director Doug Warnock. "And subsistence, which is
entirely foreign to our concept elsewhere in NPS, is going to be a major
The Park Service must deal also with intrinsic differences in Alaska.
Among them are the magnitude of the State itself, the often primitive
conditions, and the forbidding climate in some areas. "You have to adopt
a new kind of framework, a new kind of attitude, when you deal with
Alaska," says Director Dickenson. "You cannot describe Alaska in terms
of 'lower 48' adjectives. . . the times, the distances, heights, and
conditions present there are just not duplicated in the lower 48."
Deputy Regional Director Warnock thinks most people understand
basically what the resources, scenery and wildlife in Alaska may be
like. "Also, there may even be some realization about the difficulty of
logistics in transportation and shipping because of weather conditions
and that sort of thing," he says.
Alaska Regional Director John Cook
(left); Alaska Regional Office Deputy Director Doug Warnock (center);
Becky Kaiser, administrative assistant to Regional Director John Cook
(Photos by Candace Carry)
Logistics is precisely why Becky Kaiser, Administrative Assistant to
Regional Director Cook, likes to have people visit Alaska. "It's
important for them to see our physical layout, our working space, and to
understand the vastness of the areas by seeing them first-hand," she
says. Becky, who also arranges trips to NPS areas in Alaska for Interior
officials and VIPs, says it can sometimes be difficult if people don't
understand the geography of the unique nature of Alaska. "The easiest
way to explain the vastness, the mobility problems, is to remind them
that Alaska spans four time zones. . . most people don't stop to realize
that!" She chuckles a bit when she tells about a recent caller who asked
her to connect him with Mount McKinley (now Denali). "Mount McKinley is
about 270 miles from Anchorage, and yet most people who have never been
here think it's just on the outskirts of Anchorage."
Planning could prove to be a different kind of challenge for the Park
Service in this vast new land. "Planning will boom under this
legislation," says Chief of Professional Services Howard Wagner,
"because we have only 5 years to produce master plans for all the new
areas." Wagner says the areas will work with the Denver Service Center
for much of the planning. "This is truly different up here, and many of
the problems we face will involve a hard look at our internal policies
in personnel, logistics, and visitor wants and needs. All these things
have to be carefully planned for," he adds.
Regional Director Cook says he prefers a very pragmatic, conservative
approach to planning for the areas in Alaska. "As we develop the
planning, we need to zero in on each area, first as its own entity, and
then as it fits into the Alaska system and to the National Park System."
For example, access and visitor services will be more crucial at some
areas than at others, according to Cook.
"Development may never be right for some of these areas," he adds.
"We have to evaluate the resources, the accessibility, and the types of
use that each area can take. We must, in our planning, project
visitation trends, and look at national economic trends, transportation
trends. . . it all affects what we do."
Cultural resources are another unique challenge in Alaska NPS areas.
Regional Cultural Resources Director Bill Brown says he finds that he
and others have learned that many Park Service values are "turned upside
down" by the very nature of the unusual, different culture in parts of
Alaska. "Our challenges are great because we have Natives living in the
areas and their lifestyle is a significant part of the cultural
resources," he says. He cautions that we must be sensitive to these
delicate cultural landscapes.
Aerial view of Aniakchak Caldera taken from northern rim, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve.
ATTITUDES AND COMMUNICATIONS
Bob Belous, special assistant to the ARO
director, is also a top-notch photographer. He's shooting here near Lake
(Photo by Candace Carry)
Attitudes toward the Park Service in Alaska range from respect and
gratitude to old-fashioned, anti-government resentment. "There is no
homogenous attitude here," says Bob Belous, a special assistant to John
Cook. Belous, a well-known photographer, has traveled the far corners of
Alaska, and knows many of the Natives in villages and remote areas
across the State. He claims attitudes vary greatly, but that this
variance does not appear in the news media. "The attitudes reflected in
the media here used to be generally negative, but they are changing." He
points out that in many areas the Park Service is well-respected and
that it "has a positive rapport with people," but he adds that this is
rarely reflected because "the press reflects Anchorage, Fairbanks, and
Juneau." This, according to Belous, does not give a true picture of what
is going on in the remote places where Park Service areas are. "The only
part of the Park Service in Anchorage is the Regional Office. The parks
themselves are far removed, and that's where the action is" adds Belous.
However, the Park Service, he says, is seen by an increasing number of
Alaskans as a "protector of landscapes and resources that have been
recognized as vital to people in certain parts of the State."
Regional Director Cook thinks once-negative attitudes are changing.
"I look at the first time Doug Warnock and I flew into Eagle or when I
went into Duffy's Tavern in McCarthy a year and-a-half ago, and I
compare that with when we had our first task force meeting up here last
summer. . . it's incredible, and rewarding, how the level of acceptance,
understanding, and communications has improved," he says. Cook refuses
to replace the "bullet-bitten" glass in what was his office window when
he first became AAO director. "When the time comes, I'm going to take
out that glass with five bullet holes in it, frame it, and it's going to
be a part of a montage of keepsakes," he laughs. "I think we have begun
to turn a corner and I would like to look upon us as not
wheeler-dealers, but healer-dealers."
Still, rumors run rampant about the Park Service in Alaska. "I've
never seen anything like it in my life," says Cook. "Miscommunications
and rumors are atrocious up here at times." The Anchorage office, for
example, receives calls from frantic backpackers under the impression
they cannot set foot in Wrangell-St. Elias. "These people honestly think
the entire area is totally off-limits!" exclaims one NPS employee in
Alaska. Not so, people not only backpack in the Wrangells and all other
Park Service areas, but they can also camp, fish, hike, and even hunt
and trap in the preserves.
Alaska Regional Office Associate
Director for Professional Services Howard Wagner (left); ARO Chief of
Cultural Resources and Compliance Bill Brown (center); Joan Gidlund, ARO
assistant to the director for public affairs (right).
(Photos by Candace Carry)
Communications, then, provides special challenges for the Park
Service in Alaska. "The big challenge for me in public affairs," says
Assistant to the Regional Director for Public Affairs Joan Gidlund, "is
explaining exactly what the D-2 legislation means to Alaska now that
it's passed. There is a log of misinformation floating around out there,
and it is our job to correct that and explain things to these people."
Gidlund knows that the traditional news release is not enough in Alaska.
Besides using conventional media and public involvement meetings to
communicate both in Alaska and nationally, she works with other land
management agencies in cooperative efforts. All Interior Department
bureaus in Alaska participate in the Alaska Land Managers Task Force.
Gidlund heads a subcommittee of the task force that is charged with
refining and improving public information efforts about Alaska. The task
force is planning a joint-agency radio series on the Alaska Radio
Network to inform and educate citizens about land issues and regulations
in the State.
Communication vehicles in Alaska are not always the same ones used in
the lower 48. Personal contact although difficult in an area so vast, is
essential. "No media routine of getting out information about
regulations is enough in Alaska," according to Bob Belous. "While media
is important, the Park Service in Alaska has not relied on that alone.
Public involvement meetings have helped Alaskans affected by NPS
regulations to understand in depth what they mean, and the meetings have
allowed the Alaskans to have input." Belous says public involvement
comes in a special form in Alaska. "Often it means making a little extra
effort, like having English translated into a Native language that is
better understood in a particular locale." But more important, says
Belous, communications must not be one way. "Our meetings have
North of Donoho Basin, the Gates Glacier (right) merges with
the much larger Kennicott glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
(Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Photo)
STAFFING AND EMPLOYEE PREPARATION
Jim Berens, ARO associate director for administrative services.
(Photo by Candace Carry)
Selecting the right employees for work and life in Alaska will be yet
another challenge for the Park Service, according to Associate Regional
Director Jim Behrens. "Our method of selection for employees is going to
be very important, because not everybody and his family can come up here
and live in the boondocks the way some people are going to have to
live," he says.
Associate Director for Operations Bob Peterson doesn't think Alaska
is unique in this respect. "The same principle applies to people who
might transfer to the Everglades or to Washington, D.C., or to
Philadelphia or Boston," he says. "One of the things that has to be
considered is whether or not the employee really wants to make the
move." Peterson does acknowledge that it is important for employees to
understand what they are getting into, especially for their families.
"The field areas in Alaska, although surrounded by great beauty, may not
be a desirable place to live for some people," he adds.
Some think Alaska could be a "rude awakening" for those who are
unfamiliar with the conditions there. Employees and their families must
be well-prepared for life in some of the remote, isolated areas of the
State. The Alaska Land Managers Task Force has developed special
personnel management guidelines for Alaska that discuss recruiting,
training and the kinds of information that people moving to Alaska need
Since there won't be many NPS employees in Alaska initially, Director
Dickenson says the Service need not organize a large, formal orientation
process for newcomers. He, like Regional Director Cook, prefers training
and orientation that is more personal and "one on one" with a focus on
specific locations where employees will serve. Both Dickenson and Cook
stress the importance of training of employees being sent to new areas
by individuals very familiar with the areas where the new employees will
be sent. Furthermore, "care ought to be exercised in selecting people
who are stable and have no psychological problems in the first place,
and have very stable family relationships," says Dickenson. "It's
important that they have shown through past experience that they can
handle stressful situations," he adds, "because significant
psychological and sociological differences exist in Alaska. The whole
pattern of human activity there produces stress that may not be
experienced by those of us who are used to the rhythm of life in the
Yukon River, Yukon - Charley Rivers National Preserve.
THE CHALLENGES, THE FUTURE
Although we finally have an Alaska lands bill, much remains to be
seen about the long term effects the Park Service will have on Alaska,
and about the effects Alaska areas will have on the Park Service. One
thing is for certain: NPS employees in Alaska are looking forward to the
challenges and excitement that lie ahead. Most of them agree that how
Alaskans and other observers worldwide will feel about the Park Service
in Alaska depends on how well NPS manages areas there. They add that it
will also depend on how the Service adjusts, how sensitive it is, and
how careful it is.
Aerial view of Lake Clark NP.
(Photo by Candace Carry)
"Visitation, interpretation and the activities routinely performed in
other national parks are important. But we must be careful that these
activities do not submerge some of the local activities and values that
are very important to the people living in these areas," cautions Bob
No one knows how long it will take to decide on development or
"non-development" of the various Park Service areas in Alaska. These
areas are very large, very isolated, and access to many of them is
difficult. "The number of users of these areas today is extraordinarily
small," says Director Dickenson, "compared to the resources available."
Looking to the future, Dickenson predicts there will not be major public
use of the new areas until more facilities are available.
Regional Director Cook sums up the feelings of many about the
Service's challenge in this vast new land. He says that in Alaska we
have the "opportunity to be doing what Stephen Mather and Horace
Albright did at the very start of the National Park Service." He says we
must be very careful about the decisons we make today because we are
"laying the foundation for the future." For many dedicated Park Service
employees, he adds, "That's the challenge."
The peaks of the Baird Mountains stretch
far into the distance and are so remote that many of them have not been
named. An aerial view on a clear fall day is a breathtaking sight, Kobuk
Valley National Park.
Alaska Units of the National Park System
|1980 Alaska Legislation||
||1978 Proclamations (or older)|
|Aniakchak National Monument
Aniakchak National Preserve
||Aniakchak National Monument||350,000|
|Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
||Bering Land Bridge National Monument
|Cape Krusenstern National Monument
||Cape Krusenstern National Monument
|Denali National Park
Denali National Preserve
||Mount McKinley National Park
Denali National Monument
|Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic National Preserve
||Gates of the Arctic National Monument
|Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Preserve
||Glacier Bay National Monument
Glacier Bay (1978 addition)
|Katmai National Park
Katmai National Preserve
||Katmai National Monument
Katmai (1978 addition)
|Kenai Fjords National Park
||Kenai Fjords National Monument
|Kobuk Valley National Park
||Kobuk Valley National Monument
|Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark National Preserve
||Lake Clark National Monument
|Noatak National Preserve
||Noatak National Monument
|Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve
||Wrangell-St. Elias National Monument
|Yukon-Charley National Preserve
||Yukon-Charley National Monument
|"Two Alaska areas, Klondike Gold Rush National
Historical Park (13,271 acres) and Sitka National Historical Park (108
acres), were not affected by the Alaska Lands Legislation.|
President Carter, flanked by members of
Congress, conservationists and officials from the Departments of the
Interior and Agriculture, signs Alaska lands legislation in a Dec. 2
White House ceremony. The law protects about 104 million of Alaska's 365
million acres, approximately the same amount of land the State will
receive under the Alaska Statehood legislation.