ANCHORAGE — A massive landslide in Denali National Park in Alaska rained tons of rock and soil on parts of a road that attracts scores of tourists each summer, park officials said Friday.
Crews began clearing the 200-foot stretch of Denali Park Road on Friday. It was not immediately clear if road damage or instability of the terrain would affect visitors next summer, park officials said. If it turns out that there is road damage, repairs would have to be made.
“Whether or not it would delay things would depend on the extent. It’s just pretty hypothetical,” park spokeswoman Kris Fister said. “We don’t want to scare people at this point because we just really don’t know.”
For now, crews will take advantage of unseasonably mild weather conditions. They will work seven days a week for as long as possible, picking up again next spring as needed, park officials said.
The slide debris is piled in depths of up to 35 feet. Officials estimate about 30,000 yards of rock and soil fell from a point 500 feet above the road.
“That’s a lot of stuff,” Fister said.
That part of the road, 37 miles in, is already closed this time of year. There are no known casualties.
The landslide was discovered Wednesday by road-crew supervisors. Officials believe the slide occurred very recently. Initial photos of the area show debris flowed over light snow that recently fell.
The slope where the slide occurred is unstable. Although that part of the road is closed, it can still be reached on foot or bicycle, and park officials urged people to stay away from the work zone.
Longtime park workers recall that the last huge landslide occurred in the late 1980s. In that slide — 45 miles in — more roadway was covered, but a lot less debris fell, Fister said.
Denali is located 180 miles north of Anchorage. It is home to numerous wild animals, including moose, bears, wolves, caribou and lynx. Many visitors take buses along the road, getting close-up views of spectacular scenery and plentiful wildlife.
The park attracts just over 400,000 tourists a year, with most of them visiting in June, July and August, Fister said.
The road is essentially dormant and unmaintained during the snowy winter months. Crews begin clearing the road in mid-March, with bus drivers beginning training in early May.
The first 30 miles of the road open the earliest.
Summer bus runs begin May 20 for the first 53 miles of the road. Buses begin running the full length of the 92-mile road on June 8.