Military News

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Exploring Denali in recognition of military appreciation

by Tech. Sgt. John Gordinier
Alaskan Command Public Affairs

9/21/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Each September Denali National Park and Preserve hosts a "road lottery" where winners can drive as much of the Denali Park Road as weather allows. Sept. 19 was Military Appreciation Day, and 400 lottery tickets were given to military members throughout Alaska.

On normal business days, the park only allows visitors to drive to mile 15 of the Denali Park Road, but weather permitting, lottery winners can drive all the way to the end around mile marker 85 near Wonder Lake. Winners are afforded the opportunity to see wildlife, spectacular scenery and closer views of Denali.

According to the National Park Service website, "Military Appreciation Day began in the late 2000s, in the style of the road lottery. It occurred the day after the main lottery ended, all fees were waived and road passes were given out by the military to 400 Alaska-based servicemembers. In 2014, park superintendent Don Striker made this an annual event.

"Denali is honored each year to formally recognize the longstanding contributions of the (military) to national parks in general and to Denali specifically," Striker said. "We are humbled to do our small part to thank our military families who sacrifice much to protect us, and we hope a visit inspires a deep connection to the democracy that national parks represent so well."

This year, the park decided that it made more sense to offer Military Appreciation Day on the weekend of road lottery, rather than on a Tuesday, and rearranged the dates of the public lottery to accommodate this change.

"I was thrilled when I found out I was a lottery winner and was chosen to drive the Denali Park Road," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Monik Chhim, 11th Air Force commander's support staff NCO. "It was beautiful; we saw a huge herd of caribou, a few dall Sheep, a couple of bears and one huge bull moose."

"I thank the National Park Service and their personnel for allowing me and my fellow servicemembers the opportunity to enjoy all of Denali National Park amenities," Chhim said. "I was greeted by many park rangers along the way and they were all so courteous and polite. It was truly amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure."

Sentiments felt were mirrored by park rangers.

"I met hundreds of servicewomen and men and their families, and it was an absolute pleasure and privilege getting to meet all of them and to chat briefly with them," said Cass Ray, acting public information officer for Denali National Park and Preserve. "We recognize and thank members of the military and their families for their service and contributions to our nation."

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