Gold Mining in the Denali National Park

Gold Mining in Denali National Park
Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is home to the Denali National Park. Blessed with beautiful flora and fauna, the six million acre landscape also has a little-known mining district in its midst.

The Kantishna Mining District is located at the far end of the Denali Park Road. The first gold camp was established here in the year 1905, just two years after the discovery of gold in the area, at the site where the Moose and Eureka creeks meet.

The remoteness of the place didn’t prevent the fortune seekers from rushing into the region after the discovery of gold in 1903. The birth of the Kantishna Mining District added fuel to the fire of an already raging controversy that hasn’t died down for more than a century.


The Early History of Kantishna Gold Mine


The origin of the controversy dates back to 1889 when gold deposits were first discovered by Frank Densmore. The prospector found gold, which didn’t trigger a gold rush.

It would take another 15 years for the world to recognize the gold potential in Alaska. Another prospector, Joe Quigley, found more gold in 1903. Other prospectors also tasted success in the area. The finding prompted the local newspaper – The Nome Nugget – to publish two articles titled ‘Found High-Grade Gold.’

This time the public took notice and rushed here to claim their share of the gold. In the first decade of the 20th century, Denali witnessed two short gold rushes. The first gold rush happened in 1905. The arrival of gold prospectors also gave a boost to trading, industrialization, and overall growth of the region.

As the miners and prospectors, the businessmen saw an opportunity in the gold rush to get rich. Seeing the interest in gold mining, businessmen build outposts, supplied mining equipment, and provided other tools and facilities.

Moose and Eureka creeks - the two famous streams in the region, carried placer gold deposits. Miners constructed small dams to collect water and remove the topsoil to look for gold hidden beneath.

After extracting the gold, the miners abandoned the dams and moved to other places. When the first gold rush died down, only a handful of old miners stayed in the area. For the brief period, the euphoria faded and all was quiet in Denali.

Interest in gold peaked again after the discovery of gold nugget and more gold deposits in Denali in late 1906. Although the second gold rush too was short-lived, miners made the most of it by employing new technologies and methods of extraction. Along with sluice boxes and rockers, the fortune seekers also used hydraulic mining and other advanced methods to extract gold.


The National Park is Established


The Denali National Park was established in 1917. Gold mining in Kantishna, which is part of the Denali National Park, continued even until the late 1970s. It must be mentioned that gold mining in the 1930s and 1970s wasn’t as productive as the gold rushes in the first two decades of the 20th century.

In 1917, a vast landscape including the Kantishna Mining District was designated as a national park. The Denali National Park was established to conserve the scenery, the natural and historic objects, including the wildlife in the area. The objective of the park also included taking steps to promote the current enjoyment and the unimpaired enjoyment of the future generation.


Two Conflicting Perspectives


Developers: The miners and businessmen in the area were against the closing of the mines inside the Denali National Park. They argued that mining activities provided wealth and employment to the people. Hence, the mining industry must be encouraged and the opportunity harnessed, instead of shutting down the industry. Those who directly and indirectly benefit from mining believed that the gold mining industry provided for the happiness and enjoyment of the miners, businessmen, and their families.

Preservers: People that wanted to conserve and preserve the natural beauty of the landscape feared the mining industry will cause irreversible damage to the park. They claimed the national park’s goal referred to the preservation of the flora and fauna of the region and aimed at handing over the same unblemished ecosystem to future generations for their enjoyment. The naturalists and environmentalists wanted all mining activities inside the national park to be banned.

Both sides were interpreting the statement to suit their objectives. While gold mining activities were still happening in 1985, a federal judge ordered the closure of all mines in the reserve areas, parks, etc. in Alaska. He wanted the mines closed until the environmental impact of the mining activities in the places was assessed.

Eventually, the ban was lifted. Although no major mining operations are currently happening in Denali National Park, the old mining camp and areas attract thousands of tourists. People are also allowed to pan gold in the streams and creeks within the national park.

Gold Prospecting on BLM and Forest Service Lands