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Denali National Park named its first female superintendent in the park’s 105-year history with the appointment of agency veteran Brooke Merrell to the position, the National Park Service has announced.
“I am honored to be selected for the job at Denali National Park and Preserve and am dedicated to supporting this incredible park and community,” said Merrell in a NPS release. “There is so much passion for park resources from both park staff and members of the community, and I look forward to leveraging this for everyone’s benefit,” Merrell said.
Merrell originally moved to Alaska in 2009, working on a statewide transportation plan for the National Park Service and moving on to positions as the agency’s regional environmental coordinator and the leader of its environmental planning and compliance team. In 2021, she became the park’s deputy superintendent and worked as its acting superintendent for 9 months.
Before her current tenure with the park service, Merrell worked for DNA People’s Legal Services on the Navajo Nation, the City of Portland, Columbia Riverkeeper; she also worked for Gulf Islands National Seashore. Merrell holds a law degree as well as a master’s degree in urban planning.
One of the most immediate obstacles that Merrell and the park will have to deal with is infrastructure. A particularly troublesome stretch of the park’s main road has been deteriorating for years, thanks to a slow-moving landslide beneath the road triggered by thawing permafrost. Park officials layered this stretch of road with gravel, hoping to stabilize the region with temporary success. The Pretty Rocks Landslide even prompted officials to close Denali’s main road at the halfway point last year, substantially limiting the visitor experience.
Under the supervision of Superintendent Merrell, the park will move forward with the construction of a bridge over the problem area of the road, a project that will cost $91 million dollars and may take upwards of 2 years to complete, but could restore visitor access to iconic destinations like the Wonder Lake Campground, and Polychrome Pass.