Alaska News

National Park Service disputes report that it tried to limit display of US flags in Denali

The National Park Service said Sunday it never ordered the removal of the American flag from vehicles involved with a construction project inside Denali National Park and Preserve despite reports circulated by right-wing media and amplified by Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.

The Alaska Watchman, a conservative site, reported last week that workers involved in building a bridge inside the park were “recently told that they could no longer fly the American flag from their trucks or heavy equipment.”

Citing an anonymous source, the site reported Denali‘s superintendent, Brooke Merrell, “contacted the man overseeing the federal highways project, claiming there had been complaints about the U.S. flags, and notifying him that bridge workers must stop flying the stars and stripes from their vehicles because it detracts from the ‘park experience.’”

The report was widely circulated on social media in Alaska and nationally, and by the weekend had led to an event being organized to fly flags at the Denali park entrance as well as a campaign to protest to the park service. Many social media posts attacked Merrell.

Sullivan, R-Alaska, wrote a letter to the director of the park service on Saturday calling the situation “an outrage” and demanding that it be investigated. The letter was posted on Sullivan’s social media feeds.

“The American flag, especially on Memorial Day weekend, should be celebrated, not censored by federal government employees,” Sullivan wrote. On Sunday, a spokesman for Sullivan added that “one of his constituents called the senator’s office because he was informed that he had to remove his 3 x 5 American flag after the National Park Service received a complaint about him flying the American flag on his truck.”

In a written statement on Sunday, the park service disputed the reports.


“Reports that a National Park Service (NPS) official ordered the removal of an American flag from a Denali bridge construction worker’s vehicle at Denali National Park are false,” wrote park service Alaska spokesman Peter Christian.

“At no time did an NPS official seek to ban the American flag from the project site or associated vehicles. The NPS neither administers the bridge project contract, nor has the authority to enforce terms or policies related to the contract or contractors performing the work. The American flag can be seen at various locations within Denali National Park — at park facilities and campsites, on public and private vehicles, and at employee residences — and we welcome its display this Memorial Day weekend and every day.”

When asked if he was aware of anything that could have led to the perception that the agency attempted to ban or limit the display of flags by workers in the park, Christian said, “I can’t begin to speculate on how such an unfortunate miscommunication occurred.”

Reports that a National Park Service (NPS) official ordered the removal of an American flag from a Denali bridge...

Posted by Denali National Park and Preserve on Sunday, May 26, 2024

When pressed whether there had been any incident involving a flag, Christian wrote, “At no time did an NPS official seek to ban or limit the flag.”

The park service spokesperson said the statement had been given to Sullivan’s office.

The primary contractor on the project, Granite Construction, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Work has been ongoing on a 475-foot-long bridge in the Polychrome Pass area over the Pretty Rocks landslide.

On Sunday, convoys were planned from Fairbanks and the Mat-Su with people planning to display flags at the park entrance.

A couple dozen people gathered in the Walmart parking lot in Fairbanks to drive to the Denali entrance, displaying American flags on their trucks and cars.

Republican state Rep. Frank Tomaszewski and Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblywoman Barbara Haney said they saw Sullivan’s letter and decided to join the event to express support.

After hearing the statement from the park service, Tomaszewski said he hoped to communicate with the park representatives and find out what happened.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblywoman Barbara Haney.

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