Next Generation of Wilderness Protectors


SCA Intern Marinell Chandler Finds her Calling (& Sled Dog Puppies!) in Denali

As summer in Denali National Park and Preserve begins its swift progression to fall, we at the sled dog kennels are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next generation of wilderness protectors. That’s right – PUPPIES!
Each year at the kennels we have a litter of puppies to replace the Canine Rangers who have put in several years and thousands of miles for the park and are ready for retirement. It has been a long and exciting process watching as Sylvie’s belly grows, and after two months, our puppies are nearly ready to arrive. When they come, whether it’s in the dead of night or in the middle of the day, they won’t look like Canine Rangers at first. Their bodies will fit in my two hands. Their eyes and ears will be shut for days, and all they’ll want to do is snuggle and sleep with mom. But they’ll grow fast. In the following weeks and months, our puppies will become big and strong, and begin to learn from the other dogs what it takes to defend Denali’s unique wilderness character.
I’ve spent lots of time thinking about this year’s puppies. Yes, they’re going to be cute and fluffy, and the daily routine at the kennels is going to be that much better (can it GET any better?!) with their arrival, but I am most excited to watch their transformation from newborn pups to full fledged sled dogs and protectors of Denali. And if you think about it, their transformation is not unlike our own. Our beginnings are unique, but somewhere throughout our lives there was the spark of inspiration that sent us to this particular calling, to become wilderness protectors too.
Growing up, I never really wanted to go outside. Maybe it’s because I lived in the city, on one of the busiest streets in Baton Rouge. Maybe it’s because Louisiana is, by definition, just really, very hot, and kind of grossly moist, and if you walked outside during the summer you were equally likely to burst into flames or melt. Either way, there was very little about it that I truly enjoyed. Something was missing.
My spark of inspiration occurred in high school. I took an Environmental Systems course with one of my favorite teachers, and it quickly became my favorite class. Learning about the way things worked, about nature, and why we needed to protect it gave me an appreciation for being outside that I’d never felt before. My teachers encouraged me to go out of state for college, and it was in the Blue Ridge Mountains I realized that what had been missing was something I’d spent my entire childhood trying to avoid. I needed nature and wilderness, stunning views and fresh air to feel invigorated and whole. We needed places like these. I found my calling.
This weekend, I traveled into the park and made it all the way to Eielson Visitor Center where, if you’re lucky, you can see Mount McKinley from base to summit. We went along the Alpine Hike that leads you up and up to the top of a ridgeline where the end of the maintained trail allows you to wander however far you like. The sky was clear. On one side of the ridge was Denali towering above the Alaskan Range. On the other, the Thorofare River meandered in ribbons out from the Muldrow Glacier. Everything was green, and irreplaceably beautiful.
It continues to amaze me that everything I experience in Denali – the views, the wildlife, everything – is what others have seen and experienced for centuries. How humbling it is to know that the wilderness of this park has remained largely unchanged for no other reason than to preserve it for the sake of its wilderness character and everything it entails. I celebrate knowing that Denali’s wilderness will continue to remain as beautiful and grand as I have seen, and as others have seen for generations before me. But this isn’t going to happen without us. Like the next generation of Canine Rangers expected this week, wilderness protectors continue to be born and inspired every day.
We stayed on that ridge for hours. More than once we broke out in incredulous laughter at such an unspeakable view – for what else could you feel but joy, in a place as wild as this?
Sylvie the Sled dog photo via NPS