Denali: You say Mount McKinley, I say Denali

We would first like to say to President Obama, we are flattered. Your trip to Alaska was clearly inspired by #59in59. After a stop in Anchorage, you are headed out to Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield to talk about Climate Change. We were just out there and are Kenai Fjords Junior Rangers, please let us know if you have any questions. After that you are planning to visit Kotzebue, where we were planning to head next for a stop in Kobuk Valley. Also, the day after we leave Denali National Park you use an Executive Order to rename the mountain making us some of the last visitors to ever see the mountain while it was named Mount McKinley.

Anyways, Denali/Mount McKinley, what is the big deal? In the movie ‘Shall We Dance’ Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sing ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’. You know how it goes…

While we were in Denali we noticed that there were two ways to pronounce the word.

‘Den-ollie’ or ‘Den-alley’.

You will notice that no one says Mount McKinley. Everyone refers to the mountain as Denali as it is an Athabaskan word meaning ‘The Great One.  How did this entire name dispute get started? Let us read Wikipedia and give you the cliff notes.

1839 - Ferdinand von Wrangel (Chief Administrator of the Russian Settlements in North America) names the mountain Tenada and it is commonly called Bolshaya Gora which is Russian for ‘big mountain’.

1889 – Prospector Frank Densmore praises the beauty of the mountain and it is locally known as Densmore’s Mountain or Densmore’s Peak

1897 – William Dickey wrote in The New York Sun that they had named the peak Mount McKinley after presidential candidate William McKinley of Ohio. Supposedly, this was a politically driven decision as William Jennings Bryan supported a silver standard and William McKinley was a strong proponent of the gold standard. As a side note William Jennings Bryan was an amazing orator and it is worth reading or listening to the audio of his ‘Cross of Gold’ speech.

1917 – The federal government adopts the name Mount McKinley after Congress passes and President Woodrow Wilson signs into law an act to create Mount McKinley National Park

1975 – Alaska Board of Geographic Names changes the name of the mountain to ‘Denali’ and requests that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names does the same.

1980 – President Carter changes the name from McKinley National Park to Denali National Park as a way to compromise between the two parties, the official name of the mountain is still McKinley.

1980-2009 – Congressman Ralph Regula (the same Congressman who fought so hard for Cuyahoga Valley) takes advantage of a U.S. Board of Geographic Names bylaw stating the board cannot consider any name changes as long as congressional legislation relating to that name is pending. For the next 29-years he continually introduces legislation stating that the name of Mount McKinley shall not be changed. Why you ask? Regula represents the district that President McKinley is from.

January 2015 – Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski introduces legislation proposing to change the name back to Denali

July 2015 – The Daily Show focuses on the Denali name as they say in the show (click the picture to watch):

‘Because he was the first one to climb to the top of the mountain.’
‘He did not climb the mountain’
‘He was the first American President to see the mountain’
‘He never saw the mountain’
‘Well he did so much for Alaska’
'Alaska was not a state at the time'

August 2015 - President Obama endorses Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell's secretarial order to change the name of Mount McKinley to Denali.