Turn Out The Lights. The Party's Over. No DOT Maintenance On Denali & McCarthy Roads Starting October 1st

Four of Alaska's major highways are not maintained during the winter. On September 24th, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announce...

Four of Alaska's major highways are not maintained during the winter. On September 24th, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that maintenance of the two winter-challenged highways that are in the Copper Valley – the Denali Highway and the McCarthy Road – will end on October 1st. 

The long, lonely Denali Highway in summer. (Photo for the Journal, Robert Gaucher)

The other two Alaska roads that are not maintained in winter – the Eureka/Rampart Road and the Taylor Highway – will end DOT service on October 1st and October 15th respectively. 

 

THE RICHARDSON & TOK CUTOFF

Long, isolated roads with no maintenance service, including snow and ice removal, are a venerable Alaska tradition. After all, the Richardson Highway, which traverses the entire Copper Valley, south to north, had its start as a winter trail over a hundred years ago. 

Even into modern times, the Tok Cutoff was not much more than a trail, too. Sy Neeley (whose wife, Carol, and two daughters – Sharon and Shannon – still live in the Copper Valley) grew up in Chistochina. In an extensive interview in 1995, Sy told the Copper River Country Journal what it was like in the winter to live on the road to Chistochina.

It was pretty much like living on the Denali today. "The roads weren't open all the time in those days," Sy commented. "The roads were closed in the winter time." To handle that, you needed dogs back then; lots of them. "We had a team." 

He added, "When I lived in Chistochina, when I was growing up, the teams that came around there were work teams. They were hauling their summer groceries back to wherever they came from – Chisana, Nabesna – from Chistochina. My dad had the trading post there." 

Today, though it's many years later, the situation on the Denali Highway in winter, as well as the McCarthy Road, hasn't changed much from the exciting days when Sy Neeley was a boy. And that's a testament to the sheer authenticity – the "Alaskan nature" – of the Copper Valley.

The Valdez To Fairbanks Orr Stage Line. (Postcard)

DOT MEANS BUSINESS WITH THIS WARNING

Of course, winter roads in places where it's as cold as 50 below that are clogged with ice and snow and have no maintenance automatically mean you're going to have trouble if you literally plow ahead and attempt to drive them in the winter. And DOT wants to tell you that. Over the years, many unsuspecting people have ventured out onto the Denali and had to be rescued during the 7 months of winter.

The Denali Highway is 135 miles long and runs from Cantwell, on the Parks Highway, to Paxson Lodge on the Richardson. It traverses high mountain wilderness, is surrounded by tundra, and is quite empty except for a very few scattered lodges. It's going to be a long wait until you can drive the Denali again. DOT says crews will start opening the Denali in late April, and that it takes about 3 weeks to complete the job. Travel is usually able to start up again on the Denali Highway by mid-May. 

The McCarthy Road starts at the Edgerton Highway in Chitina. It runs to McCarthy. DOT says that the McCarthy Road may be "plowed periodically throughout the winter so crews can clear the McCarthy runway." 

 FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2020. COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL
 

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