Escaping time on Kesugi Ridge — part 2

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 19:00
Pete Panarese stands on Kesugi Ridge with Mount McKinley in the background in mid-September.

Editor’s note: In this second of two parts, Frank Baker reviews some of the history surrounding Kesugi Ridge and Denali State Park, along with future plans for the area.


My friend, Pete, told me that former Denali Park Ranger and mountaineering legend, Dave Johnston, had pioneered most of the trails in the area, including those on Kesugi Ridge. Encompassing 325,240 acres, or about one-half the size of Rhode Island, Denali State Park was established to the south and east of Denali National Park and Preserve in 1970, and it expanded in 1976.

Reflecting on Johnston, who is a bigger-than-life figure, both figuratively and literally, I thought about another person who came into this northern country in the early days — Mary Carey.

Carey homesteaded the area in 1962. Since there was no road, she moved materials for her McKinley View Lodge by caterpillar train up the frozen Chulitna River in the depth of winter. And mostly in self-interest, she forcefully lobbied over the years for the completion of the George Parks Highway, which was achieved in 1971. Her lodge is at Mile 134.4.

Since her death in 2004 at age 91, the establishment has been run on a seasonal basis by her daughter, Jean Carey Richardson, and is known for its delicious pies.

Mary Carey was an ambitious newspaper reporter who explored the slopes of Mount McKinley with famed Bush pilot, Don Sheldon, adding to the mystique and lore of the great mountain. She authored 10 books and was well known for her Fiddlehead Fern Farm on the Talkeetna Spur Road.

Work is now underway on a South Denali Visitor Center and campground at Mile 134 of the Parks Highway at the base of Curry Ridge. According the State Department of Natural Resources website, the project will include access to about six miles of new hiking trails. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

I am old enough to remember completion of the Parks Highway to Fairbanks, and many years later, construction of the Princess Lodge above the Chulitna River. Now, there will be the park addition near Curry Ridge.

But if you hike up on Kesugi Ridge on a clear autumn day, pause and feel the restless air, you can become a time traveler. If you wander off the beaten trail and glance out across the endless rolling hills, you will find no evidence that time is passing, or that human beings are busy down below.

When you’re there, moving into those silences, you don’t want to think about yesterday or tomorrow. You just want to dwell in that single moment.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and columnist who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: [email protected].

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