This third post in our month-long series to celebrate National Parks and Recreation Month takes us to Alaska’s Denali National Park. In addition to being one of the biggest reserves in the world, the park boasts a historic kennel of sled dogs like the pup pictured above. We recently caught up with Denali Kennels Manager Jennifer Raffaeli to learn more about the dogs and their historic role in the park.
These are the only sled dog kennels in the entire National Park Service. The dogs keep the culture and history of dog mushing alive in the north, and their main job is to “patrol” the Denali wilderness.
Jennifer told us, “Visitors always wonder, what are we patrolling for? We are not ‘patrolling,’ per se. The dogs are here to help preserve and protect the two million acres of designated wilderness in Denali. According to the 1964 Wilderness Act, mechanized forms of transport are prohibited in wilderness. This means no snowmobiles. Dog teams are the best means of travel and transport in our park in terms of preserving wilderness values such as natural quiet, opportunities for solitude, etc. Our dog teams also keep alive the long tradition of dog team travel in the north. These days, most sled dogs are bred for long distance or sprint races.”
Jennifer also notes: “They are very different from the original sled dogs in this region. The Denali sled dogs are closer to the ‘old school,’ traditional sled dogs found in Alaska. We still breed for very large dogs (60-90 pounds or more), very thick fur coats for sleeping out in the snow, tough feet and the ability to break trail in all conditions. All Alaskan huskies still share the same deep desire to run and pull a sled.”
In the summer, the kennels still keep extremely busy, but Jennifer says winter is her favorite season. In temperatures often below zero degrees, Jennifer and her team regularly head out on patrol for days, weeks and months at a time. About every 20 miles, there is a ranger patrol cabin, where they stay for the night. These cabins have no electricity – so settling in for the night takes some work!
When we asked Jennifer about the “craziest thing she’s seen in her line of work,” she said:
“Lots of people would say it is crazy that we are out traveling by dog team in 2 million acres of wilderness in Denali in the heart of the Alaskan winter. We are used to temperatures of 40 below zero, howling winds, traveling on giant frozen rivers, days that are mostly darkness…these are all in a day’s work for us.”
For those visiting Denali and hoping to see the dogs, the kennels offer free dog sled demonstrations for the visiting public at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. from May through September. Otherwise, Jennifer recommends calling ahead if you want to see them before they head out on patrol.
Here are the 2012 “Canine Rangers:”
And the dogs aren’t the only reason to visit beautiful Denali National Park.
Have you ever visited Denali? Do you have any beautiful photos to share?