Alaska News

Obama administration doesn't object to Mount McKinley name change

WASHINGTON --The National Park Service won't get in the middle of the decadeslong, Ohio-versus-Alaska fight over the name of North America's tallest mountain.

On Wednesday, the park service was asked to weigh in on Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's bill that would change Mount McKinley's official name to Denali, as it is referred to by many residents of the state.

"The National Park Service appreciates the long history and public interest for both the name Mount McKinley and the traditional Athabaskan name Denali," Victor Knox, a director with the park service, said at the Senate hearing. "The department respects the choice made by this legislation and it does not object to S. 319," he said.

The statement wasn't so much a ringing endorsement as an indifferent shrug, and it's unclear whether Murkowski will be able to ferry the legislation through the Senate, or if Rep. Don Young could get it passed in the House.

History doesn't bode well for the effort. As long as Alaskans have been filing bills to change the mountain's official name -- since 1975 -- Ohioans have been blocking the effort.The peak's namesake, 25th President William McKinley, hailed from Canton, Ohio.

The struggle continues: In March, Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs filed a bill that would stop the U.S. Board of Geographic Names from changing the mountain's name.

In a twist this year, Gibbs was born in Indiana and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan was born in Ohio. Sullivan co-sponsored Murkowski's bill to change the official name to Denali.

"At home in Alaska, we just call it Denali because it's part of our history. Officially changing the name from Mount McKinley to Mount Denali will show the longstanding significance that the name Denali holds for Alaskans," Murkowski said.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is Alaska Dispatch News' Washington, DC reporter, and she covers the legislation, regulation and litigation that impact the Last Frontier.  Erica came to ADN after years as a reporter covering energy at POLITICO. Before that, she covered environmental policy at a DC trade publication and worked at several New York dailies.