JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced legislation to change the name of North America’s tallest peak from Mount McKinley to Mount Denali.
It is the latest move in a decades-long fight over the name of the mountain, widely referred to as Denali by Alaskans.
For years, members of Ohio’s congressional delegation have filed measures or included language in bills to retain the name Mount McKinley; Ohio is the birthplace of President William McKinley. One such measure is currently pending, introduced by U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Betty Sutton.
Murkowski said opponents of a name change can continue to refer to the peak as Mount McKinley. Under her bill, the Alaskan name for the mountain would become the “technically correct” term for what is an Alaska landmark, she said.
“Making Denali — the name that Alaskans use anyway — the official name of America’s tallest mountain means something to Alaska,” Murkowski told a subcommittee earlier this week.
Murkowski has also introduced legislation to rename the Talkeetna Ranger Station in Alaska for Walter Harper, credited as the first person to reach the peak’s summit.
According to a National Park Service history, McKinley, the name bestowed on the peak by William Dickey in 1896, stuck because of his “’discovery’ account” in the New York Sun in January 1897. This was in spite of the fact that Alaska Natives, Russians and American visitors had offered names of their own for the mountain over the years.
The name Denali is an Athabascan, or Alaska Native tribe, word meaning “the high one.”
A move to change the name took hold in the 1970s, championed by then-Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond. The state Legislature, in 1975, passed a resolution urging the Interior secretary to direct the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to rename Mount McKinley as Mount Denali and Mount McKinley National Park to Denali National Park, according to the history.
Ohio U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula vowed to fight the name change, and did, through measures or language included in bills until his retirement in January 2009.
The park’s name, however, eventually was changed to Denali National Park and Preserve.
Crystal Patterson, a spokeswoman for Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, said keeping the mountain’s name is important to honor President McKinley. Patterson said Regula asked Ryan to continue the fight against a name change.
The Board on Geographic Names has taken the position that it won’t address a geographic feature name pending before Congress. The board, comprised of representatives of some federal agencies, is involved in formally naming features and gets as many as 300 proposals a year to change a name or name an unnamed feature, the board’s executive secretary, Lou Yost, said Friday.
The dispute over Mount McKinley is unusual, he said.
“Some names will cause some emotions and some consternation, but I don’t think we’ve had any that have gone on this long, or (at) that high of a level,” he said.