Mount McKinley National Park Is Created Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Mount McKinley National Park was created to protect from extinction the white Alaskan mountain sheep and other animals such as the caribou, the Alaska moose, and the grizzly bear.

Summary of Event

On February 26, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed Senate Bill 5716 and House of Representatives Bill 14775 into law and created Mount McKinley National Park in the Territory of Alaska. The joint bill, which had been introduced to both houses of Congress in 1916, enjoyed quick passage with little opposition owing largely to its provision for the protection of wildlife. Mount McKinley National Park became the first national park added to the National Park Service National Park Service, U.S. following the agency’s creation on August 25, 1916. Mount McKinley National Park[Mount Mackinley National Park] National parks (U.S.) Wildlife conservation Wilderness preservation Conservation;wildlife [kw]Mount McKinley National Park Is Created (Feb. 26, 1917) [kw]McKinley National Park Is Created, Mount (Feb. 26, 1917) [kw]National Park Is Created, Mount McKinley (Feb. 26, 1917) [kw]Park Is Created, Mount McKinley National (Feb. 26, 1917) Mount McKinley National Park[Mount Mackinley National Park] National parks (U.S.) Wildlife conservation Wilderness preservation Conservation;wildlife [g]United States;Feb. 26, 1917: Mount McKinley National Park Is Created[04210] [c]Environmental issues;Feb. 26, 1917: Mount McKinley National Park Is Created[04210] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Feb. 26, 1917: Mount McKinley National Park Is Created[04210] Dickey, W. A. Sheldon, Charles Mather, Stephen T. Pittman, Key Wickersham, James





Three major reasons were expressed for the creation of the park: promotion of travel to the U.S. territory of Alaska, preservation of natural scenery, and most important, the protection of wildlife. The Dall sheep—white mountain sheep—that lived in the region were facing extinction. The magnificent, heavy-horned ram of the Dall species can weigh up to two hundred pounds. Other animals such as the Alaska moose—the largest animal in the park—the grizzly bear, and the caribou also needed protection from prospectors entering the region by way of the new Alaskan railway. Other types of animals found in the region included black and brown bear, rabbit, lynx, beaver, and silver, red, and dross fox. An additional 120 species of birds and 36 species of mammals have been sighted within the boundaries of Mount McKinley National Park.

The original park had a curious shape. Its long dimension followed the general course of the Alaska Range from Mount Russell to Muldrew Glacier. The park included the main range from its northwest face to beyond the summit. East of Muldrew Glacier, the range widens toward the north and consists of a number of parallel mountain ridges separated by wide, open basins.

Until 1914, the area had been highly inaccessible. From the coast, it could be reached by pack train, dogsled, or small boat. From the north, it could be reached by pack train or dogsled. This route was a more difficult journey, but hunters disregarded the travel problems to hunt for big game. With the railroad coming to the vicinity of Mount McKinley, there was concern that the area would be overrun with hunters. Measures had to be taken to prevent the massive slaughter of animals and to preserve the beauty of the area.

Mount McKinley was described as early as 1897 by gold prospector W. A. Dickey, who estimated its height at 20,000 feet (it was actually 20,300 feet). The snow line on Mount McKinley is at 7,000 feet; the remaining 13,300 feet of glacier and snow offer mountain climbers the highest climb above a snow line in the world. In 1913, Archdeacon Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens, with native companions, became the first to climb to Mount McKinley’s peak.

The Boone and Crockett Club of New York, founded by Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880’s as a hunting club, turned to conservation in the early twentieth century, and the Campfire Club of America, devoted to the saving of wildlife, unofficially sponsored making the Mount McKinley area a national park. Author Charles Sheldon, a member of the Boone and Crockett Club who wrote extensively about the Yukon, spent considerable time in Washington on behalf of the formation of the park. One of his books on the Yukon is titled Denali, which is the Native American name for Mount McKinley.

Senator Key Pittman of Nevada and Alaskan territorial delegate James Wickersham introduced legislation into both houses of Congress for the creation of a national park. A climbing party that included Wickersham made the first attempt to reach the peak of Mount McKinley during the summer of 1903 but had to turn back at ten thousand feet because of a lack of proper equipment and provisions.

Pittman’s bill provided for a park twenty-five miles square. The park would be open to irrigation enterprises, as required by a law passed in 1901, and to mining. There would be no hunting in the park except to protect human and other animal life and to provide food for prospectors. The House amended the bill to limit appropriations for the park to $10,000 annually and to require that revenues from leases were to go to the Treasury Department. The Senate agreed, and the resulting bill, Public Law 64-353, was signed on February 26, 1917.

The act creating Mount McKinley National Park had several flaws. One problem was the authorization of mining and prospecting, which in turn resulted in the killing of wild game by miners and prospectors. A more significant problem arose in the annual funding by Congress.

Appropriations provided by the act for the administration of the park did not materialize for several years, and the National Park Service had to turn the administration of the park and the protection of its wildlife over to the governor of Alaska. The game laws of Alaska were not the same as those governing national parks, and the game wardens were inefficient in dealing with hunters, thinking the game laws of Alaska should take precedence.

In 1919, Stephen T. Mather, first director of the National Park Service, reported that the park could not open soon, but that the service would still try to protect wildlife within the park boundaries. In 1920, Mather reported that no appropriation had been made, no control of the park had been established, and no protection was possible other than incidental protection from the territory of Alaska. At this point, Sheldon again came to the aid of the park. He appeared before the Appropriations Committee and pleaded for the protection of the wildlife in the park. The following year, 1921, Congress appropriated a sum of $8,000 to protect, maintain, and improve 2,650 square miles of wilderness, pay the superintendent and assistants, erect needed buildings, protect the Dall sheep and caribou, assume control of the area, and arrange for a survey of the park’s boundaries.

Several more years passed before, in 1927, a bill finally was enacted that allowed for an increase in appropriations for Mount McKinley National Park. It was not until 1931, however, that the U.S. secretary of the interior was authorized to issue regulations to miners and prospectors entering the park. After World War II, Congress granted a respectable appropriation of $200,000 for the administration of Mount McKinley National Park.

Construction of the railroad was finished in 1923 and afforded access to the park, but roads and trails were nonexistent for many years. There were no facilities for camping. There was little or no management for the park, which had 445 square miles of natural breeding grounds for mountain sheep and caribou added to its boundaries in 1922. Only sixty-two visitors were reported in 1924; in 1939, a hotel was constructed for use by visitors.

The Mission 66 Plan of the 1950’s and 1960’s, a ten-year plan to improve the national parks for the golden anniversary of the National Park Service, helped to improve Mount McKinley National Park and make it more attractive to visitors. Old campsites were rehabilitated, new campsites were added, and new roads were constructed, permitting more visitors to experience the scenic beauty of Mount McKinley.

By 2004, slightly more than 270 campsites existed at various locations around the park, and two visitors’ centers had been constructed. The park boasted more than 400,000 visitors in 2004.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter ordered extensive additions to the park and created Denali National Monument. National monuments;Denali On December 2, 1980, with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the former Mount McKinley National Park with slightly modified additions was redesignated by Congress as Denali National Park and Preserve under Public Law 98-487.


Denali National Park and Preserve encompasses an internationally significant Subarctic ecosystem that serves as a baseline for the study of comparable environments around the world. The original purposes of establishing the park in 1917 were to preserve wildlife, scenic beauties, and natural curiosities for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. The 1980 expansion of the park was preceded in 1974 by action on behalf of the international community to designate the original park acreage as a biosphere reserve under the Man and the Biosphere program of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The purpose of this designation was to support the protection of the park’s natural processes and genetic diversity for comparison with areas that have been altered by human activity.

Legislation to create a national park and later a preserve resulted in the preservation of more than scenic beauty and wildlife. Not only are Dall sheep, caribou, bear, moose, and other animals protected in their natural environment, but also many other species of fish, birds, vegetation, and plant life are protected.

Mineral deposits in the region are abundant. Gold was mined in abundance for many years, and renewed mining interests were seen in the 1970’s. Important mineral deposits of silver, antimony, lead, tin, and zinc are also found in the region. Coal is estimated at eight million tons in the nearby area. Nonmetallic minerals such as sand, gravel, limestone, perlite, and shale are found in the region, but they have not been heavily extracted, except during construction of the railroad and the highway.

Two plant species reported to occur within the park and preserve have been cited as potentially eligible for the list of endangered species. These are the Smelowskia borealis variety Villosa and Taraxacum carneocoloratum, which are both located along the dry ridgelines in high elevations. Five major vegetation associations are also found in the park. They are the low brush-bog, bottomland spruce-poplar forest, upland spruce-hardwood forest, moist tundra, and alpine tundra. These associations include a variety of timber including white spruce, black spruce, Alaska paper birch, poplar, aspen larch, and willow trees.

Denali’s birdlife includes a variety of migratory waterfowl. Nonmigratory birds include the chickadee, raven, magpie, woodpecker, owl, and ptarmigan. Trumpeter swans, formerly listed as endangered, are frequently seen in meadows and small ponds. Several types of fish are abundant in the park and preserve. They include salmon, arctic char, Dolly Varden, whitefish, burbot, northern pike, and grayling. The only amphibian known to exist in the area is the frog.

The creation of Mount McKinley National Park succeeded in saving wildlife, vegetation, and other living things from extinction while preserving a huge wilderness area’s scenic beauty. Denali National Park and Preserve, which covers more than six million acres, is administered jointly by the National Park Service and departments of the state of Alaska. This joint administration is necessary because of the vast amount of land involved and the state laws pertaining to gaming, fishing, mining, and other interests.

In cooperation with the National Park Service, the state of Alaska is responsible for establishing fishing, hunting, and trapping regulations for lands added to the park and preserve. A memorandum of understanding between the National Park Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game defines the cooperative management responsibilities of each agency.

Mount McKinley remains the primary focus of the national park, and people still seek to climb it. In November, 1994, a fee was placed on climbing applications, with advance reservations required to travel to the highest peak in North America. Mount McKinley National Park[Mount Mackinley National Park] National parks (U.S.) Wildlife conservation Wilderness preservation Conservation;wildlife

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Albright, Horace M. The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-33. Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers, 1985. Account of the foundation and early years of the National Park Service by one of the most important participants in the events.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cameron, Jenks. The National Park Service: Its History, Activities, and Organization. 1922. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1974. Report for the Institute for Government Research examines the early history and development of the park system in the United States. Discusses all of the parks in the system and the laws enacted in their creation as well as the future of the National Park Service.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Capps, Stephen R. “A Game Country Without Rival in America: The Proposed Mount McKinley National Park.” National Geographic 31 (January, 1917): 69-84. Presents an excellent firsthand account of the beauty and wildlife in the area proposed for Mount McKinley National Park. Includes photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ise, John. Our National Park Policy: A Critical History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961. Describes the national park system in the United States from the time of the establishment of the first parks. Discusses the problems and accomplishments of the National Park Service, the administration of each director, and the shifts in public opinion about creation and use of the parks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rettie, Dwight F. Our National Park System: Caring for America’s Greatest Natural and Historic Treasures. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. A tour of the modern national park system and the agency that manages it, presented by a longtime employee of the National Park Service.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Runte, Alfred. National Parks: The American Experience. 3d ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. Interpretive history of the national parks and what they mean to Americans. Argues that park creation and maintenance has had more to do with nationalism and commercialism than with environmentalism. Includes maps, illustrations, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Scoggins, Dow. Discovering Denali: A Complete Reference Guide to Denali National Park and Mount McKinley, Alaska. Lincoln, Nebr.: iUniverse, 2001. Comprehensive guidebook for visitors begins with a brief chapter on the park’s history. Includes maps as well as information on activities and wildlife.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shankland, Robert. Steve Mather of the National Parks. 3d ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Examines the life and accomplishments of the first director of the National Park Service and the influence he had over policies and decisions of the agency’s future directors. Describes Mather’s devotion to the park system and his concern for the scenic wilderness heritage of the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Denali National Park and Preserve/Alaska. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1985. Provides a brief history of the creation of Mount McKinley National Park and Denali National Park and Preserve. Covers many of the reasons for the park’s creation and its establishment as a national preserve. Informative introduction to the park written by park personnel.

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Categories: History