Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve - As Big as Switzerland?!

Welcome to Day # 212 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure.


Some years ago I read an article written by a prominent black doctor about our medical system titled, "The system is not failing; failure is the system."


I am reminded of that this morning as we are in the second week that our government has been deliberately shut down by a small segment of our population that can articulate no clear goals and shows no intent to compromise: The shutdown is not a byproduct of failures, it is the intent and plan of this group to shut our country down. So aberrations such as this. "Sen. Ted Cruz . . who helped set off the government shutdown in his bid to defund Obamacare, found himself on Tuesday passionately defending not just government-regulated health care, but government-owned and operated health care," may seem inconsistent to us until you realize that  the major objective of demonstrating power by the shutdown has been achieved. 


  More than 13 million acres of land are protected in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. National Geographic Photo.


The fact that this small minority remains in office through grotesquely gerrymangled districts shows that we cannot take it for granted that the future of our country is assured as a democratically governed Republic - one person, one vote, and the majority rules.


"Take action, call your representative in Congress" our Acting President

Theresa Pierno encouraged repeatedly yesterday in a 44-minute interview on C-Span.

 I found myself grieving as she laid out the impacts on our parks, the workforce and related businesses. I'm getting notes from as far away as Hawaii from friends whose businesses have ground to a halt because there are no tourists visiting the parks and stopping to shop at their organic farm. The consequences are terrible. So what is the prize? We need to know that instead of dismissing the culprits as "wackos," because these "wackos" threaten everything we hold dear.


Remoteness and inhospitability to humans help ensure that Gates of the Arctic will survive the passage of this generation intact.


How I long for the days when Congress was a friend to our parks. In the late 1990s our Florida Senator Bob Graham, for example, took it upon himself to convene several meetings in Yellowstone over the course of a few years, to discuss and strategize how we could expand the park system to accommodate our growing population, and how we could tell a more expansive story of the development of our country that includes the contributions of Americans of color.


Our Congressman Alcee Hastings and Congresswoman Carrie Meek collaborated to create Town Hall meetings and informational sessions in Miami so that local residents could get an appreciation of what was needed to restore the Everglades and why. While there are many in Congress who support our national treasures, (NPCA recently presented 'Friends of the National Parks' awards to 157 members) there are still many in congress who do not appreciate the value of these special places and would just as soon privatize them or let them suffer severe effects from being terribly underfunded.


The current situation makes me deliriously grateful that there are some units in our Park System such as the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve that are so huge and so remote that they are virtually free from human influence.



 The Arctic Fox and caribou, muskoxen, and more than 145 species of birds thrive in this huge wilderness.



According to Travel Alaska:


"Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve covers 13,238 square miles, sprawls 800 miles from east to west and is entirely north of the Arctic Circle. It extends from the southern foothills of the Brooks Range, across the range's ragged peaks and down onto the North Slope. A vast wilderness the size of Switzerland, it contains no National Park Service facilities, visitor centers or campgrounds. The only trails are those made by the Western Arctic caribou herd, the largest in Alaska at 490,000, the only people passing through are the truly adventurous visitors or subsistence hunters.


"Gates of the Arctic straddles the Arctic Divide in the Brooks Range, America's northernmost chain of mountains. Second only to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in size, most of the park is a maze of glaciated valleys and gaunt, rugged mountains covered with boreal forest or treeless slopes of Arctic tundra north of the divide. It is a habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep, moose, caribou and wolverines. Fishing is considered superb for grayling and Arctic char in the clear streams and for lake trout in the larger, deeper lakes.


"Within this preserve are six Wild and Scenic Rivers, miles of valleys and tundra slopes to hike and, of course, the Gates themselves. Mt Boreal and Frigid Crags are the gates that flank the north fork of the Koyukuk River. In 1929 Robert Marshall found an unobstructed path northward to the Arctic coast of Alaska through these landmark mountains. Marshall's name for the two mountains has remained ever since.


  At more than 13 million acres, this park and preserve could fit several states and even the entire country of Switzerland in its borders.


"With the exception of the Dalton Highway, the park is far from any roads and is home to only one village, Anaktuvuk Pass. Eight more Native villages dot the perimeter but all have less than 400 permanent residents. In the simplest terms, the remoteness of the park attracts mostly experienced backcountry travelers for float trips, backpacking treks or base camps set up to enjoy day hiking and fishing. Many visitors join guided trips that a handful of outfitters offer in summer for rafting and hiking or in the winter for dog mushing and cross-country skiing. Either as an independent traveler or as part of guided expedition, a visit to Gates of the Arctic requires careful planning and advance reservations."


Thank God the land is bigger than us, and will survive our brief passage across it. The question is, what shape will we leave it in for those who come after us? As Frank told me years ago, "Honey, we're not trying to save the Earth. The Earth has been here long before us and will be here long after we're gone. What we're trying to do is help assure that the conditions we leave behind will be fit to sustain human life."


Look into the eyes of your children and grandchildren 10 and under, and  think how our actions will affect the Earth and the country they inherit. Remember, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."


 If you've missed any of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventures, find them here  (Archive) Pick up your indispensable copy of "Our True Nature" while you're on my website. If you don't have it, you can't know what you're missing....


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