FAIRBANKS - In a reversal of a long-standing policy, the National Park Service has decided to allow off-road vehicle use by Cantwell residents in a portion of Denali National Park and Preserve.
The decision is a departure from a 1986 policy that said off-road vehicles were not traditionally used for subsistence purposes and therefore would not be allowed. When the decision was made, the agency promised to review it in the future.
That review, prompted by objections from longtime Cantwell residents, concluded this month with a final determination reversing the policy. The review uncovered "additional information ... which demonstrates successive generational use by local residents of Cantwell of ORVs for subsistence purposes," the agency stated.
The area now open to off-road vehicle use - with some limitations - lies in the "new" park from Windy Creek, near Cantwell, southwest to the Bull River.
Only people from Cantwell will be allowed to use off-road vehicles in the area. Under federal rules, they qualify as subsistence users by virtue of their residence.
The original park was established in 1917. In 1980, Congress expanded most of its boundaries in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. In that act, which put almost a third of Alaska in parks and refuges, Congress also said "traditional" subsistence uses should continue in the new and expanded conservation areas.
The final determination describes trail-building by bulldozers dating back to Cantwell's first days as a construction camp on the Alaska Railroad in 1916.